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Professing and Cheering

I too am both a pagan and a scientist, and I will happily switch between tales of the Green Mother's handfasting to the Dying King and Gould's theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. I find it no more ridiculous than Francis Collins, the leader of the Human Genome Project and a man I respect greatly, publicly embracing evangelical Christianity.

Our brains are complex creations, with many levels and conflicting functions. The scientific method, with its falsifiable hypotheses and reductive materialism, is a stellar belief system for those systems responsible for predicting and understanding how the physical world works. Unfortunately, it provides little if any support for those pre-rational, emotional, and social systems all our brains share. Your amygdala needs something a bit different than physics.

Many of my fellow biologists share your confusion when confronted with the common person's dislike of Darwinian theory. What they fail to understand is that creation myths serve a critical function in people's lives that has nothing to do with what "really happened". Think about the function of belief from an evolutionary perspective for a moment. What survival benefit is there in understanding what "really happened" when the universe was formed billions of years ago -- especially to our ancestors on the savanna? Yet all cultures place a great importance in their creation myths, despite the fact that most can be easily disproved. It is a universal in human experience.

You may want to ask yourself what the evolutionary function of a creation myth is, and why they are a universal human conceit. With that knowledge in hand, you may have a better understanding of how a creation myth should be judged, and you may finally understand what your pagan panelist was trying to tell you.