Saturday, February 12, 2005

Faithful Genes

Nicholas Kristof has a column up on the subject of "genetically based faith" (not to be confused with faith-based genetics). I'll add a link when I'm back on the home computer, but for now, let's address the topic this way:

As Henry Ford said of history: bunk.

The first problem is: what is faith? How do we measure it?

The millimeter is an abstract concept, like faith. It doesn't exist in reality, except as an idea. But it can be defined in terms of angstroms of light. What similar physical referent can we give for faith?

The millimeter is the same for the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Taoist, the Christian, the Jew, the agnostic, the atheist. Can the same be said for faith?

And as long as we are looking for a "faith gene," or at least a genetic predisposition to "faithfulness," is there a rationality gene as well? A "scientific" gene? A "lover's" gene? A "sociable" gene?

Faith is a culturally determined concept as ill defined as "love" or "hate" or even "peace" (is the latter merely the absence of war? Something else? If so, what?) Indeed, the basis for the conversation puts me in mind of the discussions of Artificial Intelligence and Intelligence Quotient. First thing to be determined in those discussions (yes, you guessed it): what is "intelligence"? How do we measure it? What is its physical referent? Until we can do that, it is rather difficult to scientifically establish that intelligent either exists, in humans or machines, or that it is measurable.

It demeans both science and the human experience to treat what are basically reductio ad absurdum arguments as if they were legitimate.

And don't get me started on "selfish gene" theory!*

*(which is just the great grand-daddy of these absurdly unreasonable ruminations)

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