Evolutionary scientist claims benefit of blind faith; gives self brain cramp

Consider where you would place the author of these comments on the faith vs. reason spectrum:

I’m not advocating irrationality or extreme emotionality. Many, perhaps even most, of the problems plaguing individuals and groups arise from actions based on passion. … fundamentalism, for example, remains a severe threat to civilization.

We’d likely conclude that the holder of these sentiments rejects outright anything that can’t be proved, and objects to rational, reasonable people getting worked up about them.

But consider these statements from the same author in the same article:

…I’m pretty sure that people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can’t prove. Those who are occasionally consumed by false beliefs do better in life than those who insist on evidence before they believe and act. Those who are occasionally swept away by emotions do better than those who calculate every move.


The great things in life are done by people who go ahead when going ahead seems senseless to others.

Randolph M. Nesse’s contribution to What We Believe But Cannot Prove (Harper 2006) asserts that acting on beliefs that are not scientifically proven are beneficial in some contexts, and if in moderation (note his caution about “fundamentalism”). His goal is to determine how natural selection gave rise to such beliefs.

This is, certainly, a strange juxtaposition of utilitarian reason finding some benefit to emotional fideism. Scientists (the subtitle of the book is “today’s leading thinkers in science”) claim some usefulness of faith, but wrap it in Darwinian evolution (“natural selection”) in order to swallow the bitter pill. One pictures putting the dog’s medicine in a peanut butter ball.

But notice the confusion that a scientific view of faith produces. “False beliefs” are contrasted with those who “insist on evidence”, but even a Christian view of faith opposes a belief that is held despite clear evidence to the contrary, which is what false belief is. And the subject is further obscured when the author equates one who holds “false beliefs” with those who are “swept away by emotions.”

What, exactly, does the author contrast with supposedly scientifically provable belief?

It is remarkable that faith is in this context given props, even if the respect is tempered and held in terms of evolutionary theory. But science cannot comprehend faith, even if “natural selection” keeps some who hold it around. Darwin’s theory cannot provide a reason for emotion, belief, or faith, because the survival of the fittest is incompatible with blind faith: the gazelle who simply believes that the lion isn’t there is quickly eliminated from the family tree.

Yet we are not left adrift in understanding faith, or where it came from. Faith is the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1), and is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

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