Tom Oleson’s commentary on Atheism in today’s Free Press highlights the main problem I have with editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor. Unfortunately, one need not be an expert in a field in order to offer a comment – and, more importantly, comments need not reflect current research.
By “current”, I mean the past 150 years.
Oleson parpharases one of my favorite novelists, Dostoevsky, saying “you get to do anything you want with a clear conscience” since “if God doesn’t exist, then all things are permitted.” This view is simply not true and is extremely dated. Research in anthropology, experimental pedagogy, economics, evolutionary biology, primatology and many other fields has revealed a lot about the nature of our Moral Minds – that we have evolved our moral capacity over time and that our innate sense of morality is an evolutionary consequence of our biological past. Our religious institutions are therefore a consequence of our morality – and not the source. Dostoevsky would not have known that when he wrote and can be forgiven. Oleson clearly does not know that and cannot be forgiven.
Newspapers are wonderful things. I love to read them as they can reveal much about the zeitgeist and because they can summarize more information than I could ever hope to gather independently. However, newspaper often fail miserably at commentary because their commentators are not required to keep up to date on critical research and reading. They can comment freely on topics without even being aware that they are 150 years behind the times.