I’m reading E. O. Wilson’s new book, The Social Conquest of Earth. I will have more to say later about his views on the evolution of cooperation in humans and social insects, but I did like this quote from p 295 on religion and science as “different ways of knowing”:
It will be useful in taking a second look at science and religion to understand the true nature of the search for objective truth. Science is not just another enterprise like medicine or enginerering or theology. It is the wellspring of all the knowledge we have of the real world that can be tested and fitted to preexisting knowledge. It is the arsenal of technologies and inferential mathematics needed to distinguish the true from the false. It formulates the principles and formulas that tie all this knowledge together. Science belongs to everybody. Its constituent parts can be challenged by anybody in the world who has sufficient information to do so. It is not just ‘another way of knowing’ as often claimed, making it coequal with religious faith. The conflict between scientific knowledge and the teachings of organized religions is irreconcilable. The chasm will continue to widen and cause no end of trouble as long as religious leaders go on making unsupportable claims about supernatural causes of reality.
Many people view Ed Wilson as a sort of latter-day Einstein: someone who doesn’t embrace a personal God but nevertheless is soft on the idea of a deity. I think this is because Ed hasn’t gone out of his way to bash religion, and because he also wrote a book (The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth) urging religious people that it is in all our interests to conserve Nature’s diversity. That book was written in the form of a letter to a Baptist pastor, and Wilson was raised as a Southern Baptist in Alabama.
Because of this perceived accommodationism, people have neglected the fact that Wilson really has no truck with religious belief itself. The quote above is typical of his views, and should dispel the notion that he’s soft on faith. He recognizes some benefits of religion and argues that both atheist and believer alike must work to save the planet, but he clearly sees the tenets of faith as an outmoded form of tribalism.