Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Darwin and Disenchantment, continued

I have just about finished reading Darwin Loves You, by George Levine. I discussed this book in the previous entry (March 2). Some people worry that science disenchants the world and removes its ability to fill us with awe and wonder. Levine focuses on Darwinian evolution. But I think that evolution disenchants the world a lot less than almost any other branch of science. For example, what is love? According to Helen Fisher in Why We Love, love is several things. Initially it is erotic attraction, stimulated in both men and women by testosterone. Then it is a fixation upon one person, being in love, mediated by dopamine. It is physiologically similar to addiction (and hence I consider it funny that the neurotransmitter is called dopamine—it makes you feel like dope or like you are on dope). Finally, it is long-term satisfaction, mediated by oxytocin and vasopressin. A neurological, biochemical explanation of love—if anything can disenchant the world, it is this. But, of course, it has not. No matter how much we know about the chemistry of love or about evolution, we continue to love one another and love the critters of the Earth. We focus our attention on every detail of the person we love, and every detail of biodiversity of the Earth we love. Neither Darwin nor dopamine have changed this.

Some people think that only religion can keep the world from being merely mechanical. The only choices, they believe, are that the universe has a creator or that it is a heartless, cold machine. But my experience contradicts this. I have found that my creationist students are the ones who are the least interested in looking in the microscope, learning about organisms or about ecology—even from a creationist view. They seem to think that God is simply going to destroy the world anyhow, so it is unimportant. It is the other students—the skeptics and the ones who have a more general religious mindset—who are the most interested in, and feel the most awe for, the natural world. I have found that my creationist students are the ones who will not be quiet and listen to the world; they want to fill it with their own voices, or the noise and fumes of their big pickup trucks. Their faith in God means that the world might as well not exist; it is merely a temporary storage box for ego.

In other words, my creationist students seem to think, regarding the natural world (when they think about it at all), “It’s okay to pour oil on it, it’s okay to drive my truck on it, it’s okay to chop it down or dig it up or pave it with concrete—so long as you don’t believe that it evolved!”

Can anything be more disenchanting than this?

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