A friend of mine sent me a link to an article on Slate yesterday. Said he thought I would think it’s interesting. The tagline was “Does Evil Exist? Neuroscienctists Say No!”

It’s just the kind of title to get a reaction out of me and before I even read the article, I had decided that the typically left leaning Slate was contributing to the disturbing trend that grants scientists authority in all aspects of life.

I quickly quipped back to my friend that I knew of an equally authoritative article, “Do Neutrinos Exist? Bank Tellers say no!” That’s no slight to bank tellers. It’s just that they don’t really have any expertise on the subject of neutrinos. Likewise, scientists also have little expertise on the subject of evil. They might be able to tell us the sorts of physical reactions we have toward evil. Or what kinds of brain chemistry an evil person has, but they can’t tell us what evil is or whether or not it exists.

So after I settled down, I started to read the article. Here’s the first two paragraphs:

Is evil over? Has science finally driven a stake through its dark heart? Or at least emptied the word of useful meaning, reduced the notion of a numinous nonmaterial malevolent force to a glitch in a tangled cluster of neurons, the brain?

Yes, according to many neuroscientists, who are emerging as the new high priests of the secrets of the psyche, explainers of human behavior in general.

It turns out that my initial impression was right. No need to read the rest. Slate is a science worshiper just like such much of those left-leaners these days. And so I told my friend that I had correctly judged a an article by its tagline, a feat I was quite proud of. For a moment. After informing him of my insight, my friend asked, “Did you read the whole thing?”

Well the truth is that I hadn’t. And I had done such a poor job of reading even the first few words that I didn’t even notice the title: “The End of Evil? Neuroscientists suggest there is no such thing. Are they right?”

So I went back and I actually read what Mr. Rosenbaum had to say. Turns out, there is some real insight here and I almost missed it. I think the neuroscienctists would probably say I have a cognitive bias. I suppose they are right.

You can read the article here.


From Jon

There’s an interesting post up over at Slate. The author, Jesse Bering, makes the now trending suggestion that God is some sort of psychological phenomenon, an evolutionary side effect. I’ve got a couple of comments here.

First, if it is the case that belief in God is an illusion generated as a side effect of evolution, then what other beliefs do we hold that might be illusory? How can we trust any of our beliefs at all to be formed correctly? Evolution, after all, is certainly not a process aimed at helping us humans form true beliefs.  It seems if you’re able to dismiss belief in God this way, you’ve dismissed much more than you’ve bargained for. Like a workable epistemology.

Secondly, this article does not even approach the evidences for God’s existence (for example, even if beleifs formed by perception are unreliable, this does nothing to a priori arguments for God’s existence) . Instead, Bering dismisses God as illusion with some frighteningly bad argumentation which turns on this assertation:

After all, once we scrub away all the theological bric-a-brac and pluck the exotic cross-cultural plumage of religious beliefs from all over the world, once we get under God’s skin, isn’t He really just another mind—one with emotions, beliefs, knowledge, understanding, and, perhaps above all else, intentions?

Perhaps our tendency to beg the question is a by-product of evolution as well? You can read the post here.