Philip Kitcher – Living with Darwin

July 13, 2007

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. An eminent philosopher, he is the author of many books on science, literature, and music, including Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism; The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities; and Science, Truth, and Democracy. Concerning himself mostly with the philosophy of science, he has also had influence in the study of the ethical and political constraints on scientific research, the evolution of altruism and morality, and the possible conflict between science and religion. His most recent book is Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith (Oxford University Press, 2006).

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Philip Kitcher explores the implications of Darwinism for both literalist religion, and for liberal faith, and to what extent the implications of Darwin’s theory for belief in God should be taught in the public schools. He also discusses the role and benefits of religion, and explores alternatives to it, such as secular humanism, and offers ideas for how secular humanism might become more popular in society.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, July 13th, 2007. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m DJ Grothe a point of inquiries, the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing science and reason and secular values in public affairs. Before we get to this week’s guest, the eminent philosopher Philip Kichwa, about his new book, Living with Darwin Evolution, Design and the Future of Faith. Here’s a word from this week’s sponsor. 

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I’m pleased to be joined on this episode of Point of Inquiry by Philip Kichwa. He’s the John Dewey professor of philosophy at Columbia University and he’s one of the world’s most eminent philosophers. He’s the author of many books on science, literature and music, including Abusing Science, The Case Against Creationism, The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities and Science, Truth and Democracy. He joins me on point of inquiry today to talk about living with Darwin. His new book from Oxford University Press. Philip Katcher, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Well, thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here. 

Professor Kichwa, let’s start off with. Well, you call yourself a secular humanist in this book. What do you mean by secular humanism? 

Well, I mean, someone who doesn’t believe any of the doctrines of the world’s religions are true, any of the substantive doctrines. And yet may have some respect for their moral teachings. Doesn’t typically believe that any of the world’s religions has a monopoly on truth about moral teachings. And somebody who is how flat footed, interested in the project of humanity, interested in human values and in advancing the well-being of humanity, broadly construed. I think of secular humanism not simply as a reaction against religion, but in some ways as a positive doctrine in its own right. I think one of the problems of contemporary secular humanism is that it’s tended to emphasize the secularism and hasn’t paid sufficient attention to the human. 

Well, I love that you said that. That’s one of the things I want to yammer about later in our discussion. But let’s just stick with the book and why you wrote it. You’re certainly not a religious person. You’re a secular humanist, a philosopher, a philosopher of science. Did you write the book to sell secular humanism or maybe even a more limited way Athie ism to the public? All these anti God books are the real rage right now. Dawkins, Dannette Harris, Hitchens. Your book is addressing some of the kinds of topics. Are you addressing a different audience or the same audience as well? 

I’m actually not happy with the with any of the books you mentioned, insofar as I haven’t read all of them. 

But the ones that I have read on, the part that I’ve read of others suggest to me that there’s a biting tone about them, which course, of course, being picked up in the in the press. They are in many ways unremittingly negative book. They just want to get rid of the stuff. They want to think think they want to throw it away without providing much of an alternative. 

They’re attacking. 

Right. And without saying that while religion has in so many places and so many times given rise to extremes of human unhappiness and suffering and continues to do so today. On the other hand, it has also provided a lot of consolation, a lot of meaning, a lot of genuine uplift for people. I think simply to snatch this away. And in effect, say, you know, in the voice of a very commanding God. 

Oh, read a couple of pages at the Origin and you’ll feel better in the morning. 

That’s just what I know. I do think that there has to be something more positive about the contribution of secular humanism than what we are seeing at the moment. But you all feel why I actually wrote this book. 

Well, I’ve been involved in issues about the relationship between science and religion for a quarter of a century, really. I’ve been worried about the ways in which it seemed to me that Darwin’s ideas, wonderful ideas, great ideas, great scientific ideas were trashed by people on the basis of either misleading information purveyed by slick salesmen or simply out of the feeling that, you know, this was stuff they didn’t want their children to hear, that this would interfere with really important things in their children’s lives. And so I wanted to respond to that. The book is in part a response to the latest phase in the anti Darwin movement. But I also wanted to think through the relations between science and religion. I think our knowledge of the world, the knowledge that we’ve gained over the last couple of centuries have made it extremely difficult to take any of the supernatural doctrines of any of the world’s religions as literally true. I don’t think I think we’ve reached that point where we really cannot. If we look at the evidence, look at it in the face. We cannot take those dots to be true. And yet that still leaves us with a project of. Go on. And so the book is an attempt to move to that position, to the framing of the problem, the problem of how we make sense of human values and how we go on in a post religious age. And I want to write more on this. I want to try to extend beyond where I’ve gotten in the book and to see if I can if I can find a way forward, because it seems to me that, as Duey pointed out in the 1920s, it seems to be true that they there’s a kind of crisis, a crisis in the in the spiritual and religious life of people who think hard about what we now know. 

Right. You remind us that Dewey says that there’s a way to replace religion without getting rid of all the usefulness of religion to overcome supernaturalism, but still create communities where the social functions of religion kind of work for people. 

That seems to me a really important insight. And it seems to me something we’ve lost sight on in the last 70 years since Dewey wrote a column. 

So let’s get into that a bit more. Your book, in addition to speaking to the kind of anti science of the creationism movement, and maybe we’ll finish up talking about Darwinism as Darwinism. But let’s talk about the kind of religion and the science, religion or secular humanism versus religion topic that we’re on right now. Your book addresses that by kind of answering the what now question that some people might have after they read Dawkins, Dannette Hitchens, Harris. You call for alternatives to religion, not just attacking religion. That’s right. 

I don’t think I answer the question. 

I think I posed the question and I suggest why it’s an important question and why the kinds of things that you get from Dawkins and Dennett and so on really strike people as shrill and unfeeling and unsatisfying. 

Right. You say that even if what you just said is true, that there’s no reason, no good reason to believe in the supernaturalism, that secular humanist, that atheist shouldn’t be making such a big deal out of that. We shouldn’t be so triumphant about that fact. Instead, we should, you know, be exploring alternatives are replacements. 

Well, it does seem to me that is not it’s not hard. I mean, when I think about Richard Dawkins, he’s wonderful, wonderful, had a wonderful career. He’s a very, very brilliant man. 

And here is somebody who has participated in the great scientific adventure. Right. And he sees it that way. He’s excited by it. And he can’t understand why other people aren’t equally excited. Why can’t they just sort of adapt to that marvelous Jim Underdown? 

Why doesn’t everybody get it? 

Well, at point is if you’re Richard Dawkins and you really are making a contribution to our scientific understanding of the world, that gives your life a kind of point. I mean, here he is. He’s a very famous intellectual. He’s extremely successful. He’s extremely persuasive. People admire him. And he can have a sense of himself as following an a great legacy. Following on the heels of people like Huxley and the other great sort of champions of Darwinism. And, you know, that gives his life a shape and a meaning Jim Underdown. 

But most people don’t get those existential payoffs from the career. They turned to religion. Religion works for people in the way that Dawkins love and and kind of relationship with science works. 

Yeah, there are some of course, some people who can feel what he’s what he’s gesturing towards. And those people on the other very likely people, they think they can get it. They can say, yeah, my life makes sense. My life is fine. It’s wonderful to be part of an age which is throwing off superstition. BOP, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. But it seems to me that for many, many people, it’s not that easy. And especially in the United States. I don’t think it’s actually surprising that it’s in this country with is terribly competitive, terribly atomized society, that the the loss of religion is really felt so severely. I mean, the church is a great place for a lot of people. The synagogue is a great place for a lot of people where they can go, they can find other kindred spirits. 

Jim Underdown great religion works for people. It answers legitimate needs that people have for community, a sense of purpose and connection. Do you think that it follows that just because religion is founded on discredited supernaturalism, that it should be replaced with something else? Or should we just kind of a secular humanist activist, those of us who are in that line of work, let’s say? Should we just work to gut religion of all it’s supernatural mumbo jumbo without attacking it? In other words, I’m trying to wrap my head around your proposal. 

That’s a that’s a possibility. 

It seems to me that there are forms of religion in the United States. This is a remarkable country, and a lot of people are very eclectic in terms of the way in which they they they put together bits and pieces of religious. I did. There are forms of religion that seems to me don’t actually take supernatural doctrines very seriously. People are really more sometimes concerned with having a certain kind of attitude to the world or a certain complex of moral projects on a religion sometimes. 

Some people as a way of helping other people. And that’s a very good thing. I mean, there are liberal churches. I know I know of in various regions of the country where the primary focus is actually on the mission of the church in the community on looking after the less fortunate, on taking care of old people and doing something for children. And where the doctrine sort of drops into the background, when that happens, you have, as it were, all of the good things without the discredited dogmas. That’s a possible way forward. It seems to me. But, you know, I think secular humanist can actually make an alliance if they if they don’t yell so loudly that religion is big as done, dreadful things all over the place with, you know, liberal theologians. There are lots of in the various kinds of Protestant and Catholic and Jewish. And even in Islam, there are liberal theologians who want to move beyond literalism Jim Underdown. 

That said, though, what do you say to the critique against liberal religionists that Jim Underdown that they’re just leaving room, they’re actually making room for the extremists of each of their faiths, rather than being able to just stand up and say, look, I don’t believe any universe. But I do believe in any kind of being a good person. Rather than doing that, they still cling to the trappings of their right, agree that there’s always the danger of backsliding. 

And we’ve seen that actually in the last sort of 70 or 80 years of theology. And in 70 years ago, where there were many, many more people interested in forms of religious belief, forms of religious attitude that didn’t take the dogmas seriously. I mean, there has really been a hardening in the United States of dogmatic religion over the last few decades. 

And that, it seems to me, is really problematic. And, you know, I mean, part of the reason I wrote the book is to lay out at the very end just the ways in which I think the knowledge that we’ve gained over the last century really has made literalism about the supernatural unacceptable. 

If you look at the evidence, so of literalism is unacceptable. But on the other hand, if Marx is right and religion is the opium for the masses, but not just recreationally, but it’s the medicine you read called the Varya. 

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think when people hear that that line of Mike the Marxist is suggesting that religion like a sort of recreational drug, but that’s not what he had in mind at all. 

It’s a medicinal drug use, immensely sympathetic. 

I mean, you only have to read the the four long chapters in capital. He talks about the plight of the of the workers to realize, you know, how he would have seen that position. And then they need really they need something to relieve that plight. 

So if religions are drug that people take to get through life better, does it follow that if something is going to replace religion, that it needs to be as potent as the religious drug? 

It needs to answer to the same symptoms and condition? 

And you’re talking about symptoms of life right now? 

Yeah, I mean, I think people have to be given a sense that their lives and I see the countries that have achieved secularization most easily are the ones in which a spirit of community has been fostered. There are places, there are public spaces, there are public goods, there are public projects of cooperation. And there are also there are also buffers against some of the really awful things that can happen to people. There’s a social network that keeps people safer than they are in the United States. And I think that’s an important part of it. I mean, there’s good sociological data on the fact that religion thrives in places where people feel that they’re at risk and where whereas they feel more secure and where they feel that those around them are integrated with them and care about them. Then you can find, it seems to me, ways of meeting the genuine human needs that people have without lapsing into discredited myths. 

That’s, I think, the sort of society we ought to achieve. I actually think that we had parts of this. Right. When he saw that in the 20s and 30s, what you needed was a genuine sort of social network that would that would carry forward to the community in ways that were detached from religion, I think. I think that’s an insight that we want to go back to. And if in my own thinking of trying to go forward from having sort of, as it were identified, this problem, those are the lines along which I would. 

So before the intellectual argument against supernaturalism can take hold. You needed to touch on or fulfill these emotional needs. People have compete with religion on that level. Let me ask you pointed. 

Let me let me just say one thing about that, because it’s that it’s a good enough line. I want to repeat it. You may have noticed that I actually quote Chapter 13 of First Corinthians, one of the great Christian poems, I think. And I suggest that even though people like Dawkins and Dennett speak with the tongues of men and with angels, they will sound as, you know, tinkling cymbal. 

That’s Paul’s letter on love. 

That’s right. That’s the great chapter on love. I mean, I think it does come across that way without some response to the genuine emotional need. 

Do you think that secular humanism can fit that bill? Can it be that response? 

I think it can. 

That’s why I said at the very beginning, I want to put the humanity back in secular humanism. I want I want, as it were, to see it as part of a humane social program that has the attempt to come to terms with sort of the way we should live. That has, as it were, an ethic from a set of values and a set of real a real social project. 

I want to talk about Darwinism. But since we’re on the subject about secular humanism, maybe being able to compete with religion on religion’s term Jim Underdown, you know that that religion is fulfilling real human existential needs of people. Let me ask you exactly how. Although it’s outside of what you wrote about in the book, how can secular humanism do that? What about secular humanism gives religion a run for its money? 

Well, I think, first of all, it needs, as I say, said several times, a positive doctrine. Now, this has to come, I think, in two bits. There has to be really a social bit. There has to be, I think, a genuine commitment to community and social networks of support before before you start addressing the other side of things, which is the intellectual side. 

I mean, people people have to be gotten over the hump. But, you know, when God is dead, everything is permitted. 

And when God is dead, life becomes meaningless. Those are both important questions. But I don’t think you can even start addressing those questions in intellectual terms. I think there are resources within humanism for addressing them in an intellectual term until you have a more just society and a society where people are protected against the troubles and vicissitudes of life. 

And part of that better society, you’re saying, are communities of people who came to love on one another, take care of a genuinely decent wages for all health care, for all decent schools and proper care of neighborhoods, pleasant environments? I mean, why does it work in Europe? It works in Europe because the societies are much more egalitarian and because there are social networks of support. 

That’s that’s a very sort of off the cuff sociological diagnosis. But I think it’s the start of an answer. 

So there is a social gospel, as it were, to secular humanism? 

I think so. I think secular humanism will not succeed among the masses if the masses are downtrodden. And if the people, you know, feel that their lives are at risk, Jim Underdown, it can’t catch on. 

If the only thing to offer is going door to door and saying, smile, there is no God, and when you’re dead, you’re dead and there’s know no meaning in the universe. It’s hard to organize by getting people together to argue about another reason why God doesn’t exist or to x out in God we trust on all our daily lives. 

I also think that you don’t even get people to talk about, you know, well, how can we make sense of value and meaning and all that sort of stuff that people really concerned about. If they’re genuinely worried that their lives are going to be shattered at any any minute, they’re going to be thrown out of a job. They know they aren’t protected against against ill health and all the rest of it. 

We live in a rather cool competitive society. May. My diagnosis is that religion is a response to some of the harshness, at least in part. 

It seems to me a little pessimistic, actually, to say that reason isn’t going to win against supernaturalism, that rationality isn’t going to win that battle unless or until we replace religious communities with secular human. Once that being said, I’m kind of all for the project. 

Well, I have to say, I mean, I’m usually accused of being an optimist, but I suppose I am pessimistic about the thought that you can just you can just say, all right, look, don’t you see it’s all. It’s all. It’s all a load of mess. Now get on with your lives. 

I mean, I think that I were not very responsive to the ways that lots of people’s lives go. And the important role that religion plays for them with respect to, you know, mundane issues about the risks or threats that they feel and with respect to the sense that they don’t have anything valuable to hang onto without permission. So I really do think it’s a double-sided thing. There’s a there’s an intellectual thing about value and meaning and there’s a social thing about vulnerability. And both of those, I think, have to be addressed kind of along these lines. 

You. You say that recent philosophy has been ignoring these big questions about the meaning of life and some of these social questions about how to kind of farewell throughout our lives, even if religion hasn’t. You say that if philosophy has been ignoring it, that writers and artists, they’ve been treating the topic without recourse to the supernatural. But doesn’t philosophy your kind of philosophy actually get to the heart of these issues? Doesn’t philosophy provide the alternatives to religion that you’re calling for? 

I think so. 

But many of my colleagues are practicing work that is increasingly technical and that that little that little part of my book is really kind of an invitation and also something of a tithing of them. 

I think, you know, Dewey and some of his contemporaries had a sense of philosophy is doing something far more than solving technical puzzles of interest to a very, very small audience of intellectuals. I think that part of the task philosophy is exactly to address these large questions about human life, human justice, human meaning and so forth. And a lot of Anglophone philosophy, philosophy in the English language just hasn’t felt very comfortable with those questions. Writers and artists have often felt more able to talk about these things. And I think they’ve been inspirational for some of those who’ve read them. But I think it’s time for philosophy to get back into the act. 

But that’s another another cause that I’m pushing towards the end of the book. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can get a copy of Living with Darwin Evolution, Design and the Future of Faith through our Web site. Point of Inquiry, Dawg. Professor Kichwa. So we’ve talked about really interesting topics to me, but a lot of people might not be interested in this movement question. How can secular humanism better address these social issues? You know, approached the challenge of courts replacing religion. Your book is not just about that. Your book is about Darwinism as well. So let’s talk about Darwinism. It’s uncontroversial here at the Center for Inquiry. But in the science community in general, it’s debated a whole lot. Whether or not believing in Darwinism means that you’re going to be an atheist. That evolution has serious implications for religious belief. So here’s the question. Does saying that Darwinism all but equals Athie ism? Does it undercut the selling of Darwin to the public? I mean, even if it’s true that Darwinism tends toward Athie ism? 

Well, I think actually the situation is very, very complicated. 

I think that there is definitely a line of argument in the Darwinian view of the world that makes certain forms of religious belief less plausible than they were before. I mean, it is not very easy to think of a benevolent creator really, really, really cares about us setting up the show according to the script that Darwin sees as underlying the history of life. I mean, it’s a great big, long, shaggy dog story, for starters. And the second part of it is that is driven by a process that is relentless and cruel. Natural selection. Now, you might say, well, for many hundreds of millions of years, you don’t really have organisms that suffer. 

But certainly about the last four or five hundred million, you’ve got organisms that can feel pain and they die by the bucket load. 

And that’s part of a script that the creator has, apparently. So I think that’s already a difficult. 

Right. Evolution is an experiment in many failed experiment. It doesn’t seem like the designer did a very good job. 

Well, if you were going to set up the rules for the history of life, ask the question what qualities you naturally attribute to a designer who wrote that script and doesn’t work very much like the caring, powerful being of traditional Christianity or Islam or Judaism. Judaism is a more complicated case, actually. But there’s a second reason that Darwin makes it harder for religion when Darwin says, look. Think about the way in which life looks on now from the perspective of its history invites us to think about contemporary life and its form from a historical perspective. And once you take that step, you realize you can think about all sorts of things from a historical perspective, including religious practice and religious belief. Once you start down that road, you come to see that, well, here you are. You grow up in a community, has certain kinds of religions available, often just one, but sometimes many. And you grow up accepting these. You come to see the world in its terms. Should you go on accepting? Well, how has it come down here? Well, once you start looking at its history, as people have for the last couple of hundred years, you realize that allegedly a long time ago there were people who had certain kinds of special experiences or certain kinds of special relationships. And then records got written down and traditions got passed along. And now you look at the records and the traditions and you realize that they have lots of unreliable lock about them. And it looks as though the canonical doctrines come about as a result of political processes. And it looks as though all religions are like this. And you can’t really say that yours, the one you haven’t been brought up in, has any privilege over the other one. You think, wow, if I’d been brought up in Central Africa or among the native people of northern Canada or in Australia, I would have believed with equal foam on roughly the same sorts of B.S. very, very different thing. So why should my religion have gotten it right? And when you start looking at anthropological evidence, psychological evidence, rhetorical evidence, sociological evidence, evidence about the internal contradictions within the various traditions that you have, all of a sudden I think you have to say, hey, wait a minute. There’s every reason to think that all of these are at best groping attempts to understand parts of human experience. So I actually have a complicated position on this. I think we should be absolutely atheistic about all of the religions that have been so far forward and probably about all the ones that ever will get put forward by human beings. We have no reason to think they’re anything but men. And yet we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that there’s a lot more, you know, world than is dreamt of in a contemporary philosophy or contemporary natural science, for that matter. 

Right. I was struck with how open minded you appear to be about the transcendent nature. I mean, you are a nonbeliever, you’re a secular humanist, but you actually allow for the possibility that free inquiry may result in evidence for the transcendent. Is that coming from your commitment to free inquiry or are you just being open minded? 

It comes from an appreciation of how little we know. For all that we know, how little we know about it. Everything. I don’t think we are in a position to say absolutely, definitely. 

All we’re all are is here is, you know, a whole bunch of whatever your favorite fundamental kind of entity is, superstrings or fundamental particles or quarks or whatever. I don’t think we can say that with tremendous confidence. Look at the ways in which our picture of nature has changed dramatically since the 17th century. 

It’s extraordinary how much we’ve discovered. But that also give us pause and think that we’ve got everything pretty much right. So maybe in the future, all sorts of new things will be discovered. Whether they will be friendly to some sort of then or claims or not is something that we just can’t protect. I think what we can protect is that the religions that have actually grown up in the past have been attempts to come to terms with a highly complicated universe. And we can now see that they are sometimes helpful. But if we look at them historically, we see them as responses to the need for various societies have been transmitted to us and have given rise to a very strongly held belief. I think the time and this is a kind of Darwinian move. We now see see all of these religions historically. We see none of them as privileged. We see each of them as a kind of natural phenomenon. And at that stage, I think it becomes it becomes reasonable to say, well, maybe there’s a lot more than we know about the universe. But these are just premature and ignorant ways of responding to our own ignorance. So that’s the way I tend to see it. 

Now, notice that Darwinian implications are, in fact, rather subtle. And Darwin only will have a powerful case to make against all forms of religion with the help of a lot of allies. And I think that’s not widely understood. I think the the vast body of research that has gone on a variety of disciplines around religion over the last 200 years, those involved all sorts of brilliant intellect. 

And Darwin is the only one people seem to know about. I mean, if and of course, as I say in the book is in the schools, so is the potential corrupting influence on innocent children. But in fact, it’s a whole a whole group of enlightenment and post enlightenment thinkers who I think have led us to this situation. 

If everybody were reading them, some of them would seem even more threatening than than Darwin. 

Exactly. Exactly. 

Since you mentioned public education before we finish up. Some people would say that you haven’t taught Darwinism in the public schools effectively unless you teach its atheistic implications. Others say that you shouldn’t go that far because Darwinism doesn’t go that far. You’ve written on creationism. Where do you come out on this? 

Well, of course. I mean, I would I would love it if people really understood the issue. Exactly. So, you know, I would like it if they if people could grasp the law argument. I mean, my book is a short book. We have a long argument. 

It begins with the ways in which Darwinian discoveries and pre Darwinian discoveries even build together and build a case for a particular vision of life and eventually make it difficult, I think, to sustain literalist religious beliefs. 

Should that be tried in the schools? 

Well, not in science class, it seems to me. I think it would be a good idea if at some stage in education or students were challenged by a presentation of religion in comparative historical setting. I think it is a good idea, actually, to teach comparative religion, comparative sociology and history of religion, because I think that’s something that students really ought to understand, but not in a science class. I think we should actually make it part of perhaps a history class, perhaps a social studies class. 

You mean teaching the atheistic implications, the possible atheistic implications of Darwinism should not be taught in biology, but in one of these comparative religion? 

I think it’s useful for students to understand, first of all, the diversity of claims made in the world religions. It’s very hard to say what all religions have in common. They certainly don’t have a God in common or even the idea of God in common. And that’s something I think people should know. I think people should know something about. Ways in which religion themselves have evolved and the ways in which their scriptures have been put together. I mean, I do teach at the university level classes that study the the evolution of religious traditions that do talk about, you know, the sociological aspects of religion, the political aspects of religion, the history of religion, the the problems with central religious texts and with the formation of canonical religious texts. And I think that’s that’s that sort of thing should be understood by the general public. 

That still doesn’t get to the question as to whether or not the implications of Darwinism should be taught. You said no, but then talked about how everyone should learn religion, even France. 

I think a sense I think that it’s not Darwin alone who scotch his religion. I think it would be wrong, actually, to say, look, as a direct consequence of evolutionary theory, you can conclude that religion is false. That’s not the way it works. Darwin plays a role in the Enlightenment case against religion. He can even be seen as quite a large figure. But he isn’t the whole story and you can’t just as it were. Add on your last course on evolutionary theory. Here are the implications of Darwinism and get to a conclusion that religion is dead or religion needs to be transformed or something like that. That seems to be wrong. What does seem to me right is to take some time in school with looking at religion broadly and looking at some of the Darwinian implications that make difficulties for religion, but also looking at it in the context of a much broader set of disciplines history, politics, sociology, anthropology, psychology, because it’s that whole cluster of disciplines that really makes the case. And I think people should be aware of that and the challenge that exists to literalist religion. 

Professor, to finish up, it seems to me in this book you’re arguing that the wars in our culture over Darwinian evolution are actually part of this bigger struggle between naturalism and supernaturalism. So your book is subtitled Evolution, Design and the Future of Faith. Do you think that naturalism, that secular humanism is going to win over against supernaturalism, in other words, is the future of faith that it’s going to steadily succumb to the forces of science and reason Jim Underdown that eventually, you know, one side’s gonna win? 

I hope so. It’s very hard to make predictions. I mean, we live in a world where in certain regions, fundamentalism and fundamentalist movements are growing stronger rather than weaker. 

And the clashes among different brands of religion are still with us and with us in a world that has enormous destructive possibilities for warfare. And so, I mean, one could be extremely pessimistic and say what’s actually going to happen in the next decade, the next century is that the clashes that have gone on in the name of religion in the past are going to continue to go on. And they will now go on with tools and methods that have such high destructive potential that humanity will actually go out of business before it gets to the stage of enlightenment. I hope that’s not the case, but I think that the way forward cannot simply be by reiterating again and again the intellectual argument, as we said at the beginning. I really think there are serious concerns about humanity and justice that have to be addressed. And I hope there’s a brighter future. I hope that over the next decade there will be a greater commitment to justice, not only within individual societies like ours, but actually around the globe, and that that will create a climate in which the intellectual arguments can be heard and appreciated and secular humanism will emerge, as it has done in large parts of the affluent world, as the principle, the principle doctrine or people to believe. I hope that religion does wither and die and is replaced by a genuinely helpful, positive version of secular humanism. But there’s plenty of work to do. If that’s to happen, and it can’t be just a matter of pointing out again and again and again the good reasons why literalist religious belief is incorrect. 

Thank you very much for joining me on point of Inquiry, Philip Kichwa. 

I really enjoyed it. You’re a very good interviewer and you’ve read my book very carefully. Thank you very much. 

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Point of inquiries produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. Executive producer Paul Kirk’s point of inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. 

Contributors to today’s show included Debbie Goddard and Sarah Jordan. And I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.