We all have 20/20 vision for seeing flaws in the beliefs of others and cataracts when it comes to seeing our own. Marx was an expert at showing the frailties of the Christian religion, but Freud rightly saw a kind of religion hidden in Marx’s dialectical materialism. Freud, himself, ridiculed religion, but has since been accused of having superstitions of his own. Even the severest critics of human folly, look out at the world with the same fallible eyes.
Christians look at the Hindu God Ganesh and laugh at belief in a supernatural helper who is part elephant and part human. Most Christians will live and die in the faith without ever noticing that their angels are half human half bird.
Rejecting God does not save us from this tendency to project and deny aspects of reality. Ayn Rand laughed at the silly beliefs of religion and labeled her approach “objectivism,” but she believed we should surrender responsibility to the invisible hand of the market, which sounds suspiciously like a god. The list is endless of thinkers who saw themselves as the end of ideology. The scientific method is an irreplacable guide to truth, but it cannot lead us to meaning. We can only find meaning if we care about something in life, and once we care about anything at all, we are no longer completely objective. And only an emotionally stunted person would wish objectivity at the cost of a world denuded of any value.
E.O. Wilson diagnosed our problem as having evolved to believe in one kind of truth, but having discovered another. He believed there was no way to reconcile the world of scientific objectivity and religious subjectivity, but I believe that is precisely our most important task today. I believe the future of our species depends on building a bridge between our hearts and our minds.
Science has delivered humankind from slavery to superstition, but like the surface of Mars, it has no breathable atmosphere for living. To construct a world without science often leads to madness, but perhaps the strangest madness of all is to believe that one has no beliefs.