Bruce Blackshaw breaks down what happened when two distinguished thinkers debated religion and evolution.
Leading US biologist says, God is a 'hack' we need even if he doesn't exist
Brett Weinstein, US biologist and one of the leading voices in the 'Intellectual Dark Web', has suggested that believing in God and following religious practice can be the 'hack' humans need to choose between right and wrong, despite the fact he doesn't believe in the existence of a supernatural deity.
The debate, released on Friday 13 Sep, features Weinstein in conversation with Professor Alister McGrath and explores the question "Religion: Useful Fiction or Ultimate Truth?" and was filmed in front of a live audience at The Institute of Mechanical Engineers in Westminster, London. It is the first episode to be released in the second season of The Big Conversation from Premier Christian Radio's faith debate show Unbelievable?. The first season had over 5 million engagements across video, podcast, broadcast and print.
Weinstein, who describes himself as a 'Professor in Exile' after he was forced to stand down from his position at Evergeen State University in 2017 after confrontations with student protestors over 'political correctness' on campus says that belief in God has been an important evolutionary development to make sure people behave well. "The deity is a hack, right? It hacks a structure in a way that functions... How do we learn what it is wrong? These things are induced in us through a mechanism. In Catholicism, the fact that you do wrong and that wrong counts against you in a way that you can relieve yourself of the debt but you have to confess it to somebody who is then in a position to give guidance to you. Again, it's a hack. It correctly teaches you that this is wrong through some mechanism that has to be instantiated in the real world and it can be done through metaphor."
The biologist admitted that replacing the 'God hack' in a post-Christian culture would be difficult: "Can you, if you aware that there is nobody up there actually watching, write a code that is equally effective at getting people not to behave in this way? That's going to be tough. On the other hand, I'm not sure we have a choice... It must be done now through insight and enlightenment and that's not going to be easy."
In response, Professor McGrath, Andreos Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford and a leading British theologian says that he believes Christianity is not merely a 'useful fiction' but grounded in evidence and the ultimate truth of God. "I think that one of the significant things about believing in a righteous God is this deep sense that when society goes very badly wrong there is something against which we are being judged. And if you look at, for example, Germany during the late 1930s you see a resurgence of the kind of approach you and I would probably call 'natural law'. In other words, the law is being rigged to, in effect, do all these things. There has to be somebody above this who's able to say, 'this is not right'. I think that there's a lot of reason to think that we as human beings are trying to see how we fit in to a bigger picture. If you articulate that in terms of God then, in effect, you are fitting into a bigger picture which actually gives you a sense of who you are. What the whole point of things is."
The discussion covered a range of issues including whether there can be a better dialogue between science and faith, whether religious practises can be helpful even if we don't believe, and whether ancient religious wisdom can sustain us in today's technological post-Christian age.
Speaking on his personal move away from atheism, McGrath continued, "I felt [atheism] was hopelessly simplistic, or at least the forms I knew. And I think what really drew me to Christianity was this deep sense that it offered me a bigger picture of things. A way of making sense of myself, of our world, and also providing conceptual space for science. In other words, I continued to love science as something that really mattered, but having a framework into which I could fit it."
The Big Conversation is a unique video series from Premier Christian Radio's popular faith debate show Unbelievable? Hosted by Justin Brierley, The Big Conversation explores science, faith, philosophy and what it means to be human.
Other episodes feature high-profile thinkers across the Christian and atheist community such as Sir Roger Penrose, Jordan B Peterson, Susan Blackmore, Derren Brown and Bart Ehrman. For videos, commentary and the programme schedule visit: www.thebigconversation.show
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