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A letter from a reader about: A threat to magical thinking

April 20, 2006

President Tilghman, like many scientists not wanting to alienate people of faith, professes to believe, at least philosophically, in “a world of meaning and purpose consistent with a divine intelligence.” Were that this humanistic good will was enough to satisfy the faithful that science is not the enemy. Unfortunately the faithful seem to require God's counter-rational meddling in the world, hence 60 percent of Americans believe in angels. Magical thinking, a requirement for religious faith and therefore a mainstay of Western culture, has a strong hold on the human mind, always looking for stories to explain the

difficult. This fact does not make belief in miracles performed by a personal God correct scientifically, just dominant culturally. Science has become unavoidably threatening to the faithful because God's intervention is no longer needed for us to have ended up where we are and, furthermore, even the “where we are” was not inevitable. The present evolved in a random walk from the original set of conditions of the Big Bang and, if rewound and started again, a different present would emerge, with no guarantee that any human would be here to observe it.

The bottom line is that the emerging cosmological and evolutionary view, that the Big Bang-to-present system is a closed one, threatens all forms of magical thinking other than metaphorical and artistic. Given our culture's heavy investment in virgin births, resurrections, second comings, and “words of God,” much less angels and miracles, it's not so surprising that creationism, fundamentalism, and beliefs in the supernatural are still with us. It will take many generations, if we last that long, for the realization to sink in that, while God may not be dead, there never was, and will not be, any magical tinkering in this time zone (so far some 14 billion years long, with another 14 or so billion to go).

None of this would be too much of a problem if the irrationalities of the faithful were benign. The rational among us make enough mistakes not to have them compounded by faith in the scientifically indefensible. In the meantime, I pray to God for protection from His followers of this wonderful little world we are lucky enough to have randomly walked into.


Kaneohe , Hawaii

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