This religious epidural is brought to you by Francisco Ayala

Geneticist Francisco Ayala, introduced with some soothing piano and string music, takes on the manner of a family physician, assuring his jittery audience of nonexperts that everything is just fine; there is no conflict between science and religion (and we can all go back to sleep now):

Jerry Coyne rightly rolls his eyes and retorts:

We all know what “proper” science is, but what on earth is “proper” religion?

I think that Nietzsche, referring to a NOMA-like (“non-overlapping magisteria”) dispute from a different century, has the better retort here (alluding, in the Anti-Christ, to Kant’s phenomenological and noumenal realms):

If we never get rid of Christianity, the Germans will be to blame.

And if we never get rid of Stephen Gould’s NOMA, at least one Spaniard will be to blame.

I’ve long thought that the lyrics of this rather sad Duran Duran song are Kantian in that the person suffers a profound division in his world, and it is so much richer a reflection on the human condition (I think) than Francisco Ayala’s rather banal solution to the apparent death of God (which is, when it comes to NOMA, what we’re really talking about):

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to This religious epidural is brought to you by Francisco Ayala

  1. Grad Student says:


    I read your blog for a few months last August/September and then took a break and began to follow you again about a month ago. During this time your views on religion seemed to have changed very slightly. Of course you’re still against the new atheists (in many cases rightly so) and fundamentalists. Now, however, you seem to be slightly more critical of believers including liberal-ish Christians like Ayala.

    I’m probably seeing a pattern where none exists, but who knows. Any thoughts?

  2. santitafarella says:

    Grad Student:

    Actually, my thoughts about religion—even liberal religion—are evolving. I’m less and less patient with religious dishonesty and rationalizations, and have wearied of defending them, even in the abstract. I think that the New Atheists are right to rhetorically punch holes in the “bubbles of rectitude” that religions take their refuge in, and I think that religionists are right to point atheists in the direction of Nietzsche and say: “You are not really looking at the full implications of your Promethean position.”

    So I’m still thinking.

    If you had to locate me existentially right now, I’d say I’m in with Euripides, Sophocles, and the other Greek tragedians. I’ve been reading a lot of their plays lately. And, of course, Nietzsche. I’d also say I’m in the “flungness barrel” with these Twilight Zone characters:

    Has anything evolved for you since we last talked?


  3. Gunlord says:

    Heh heh. Well, if I may be forgiven for adding my 2 cents in, I suppose I can certainly sympathize with our gracious host’s lack of patience with religious dishonesty and rationalizations, and with his lack of ardor for defending them. If I may be so bold, though, Grad Student, judging by a few of the entries Santi has made rightly criticizing New Atheists ranging from Grayling to Dawkins, I don’t think he has much patience for atheistic (New or otherwise) dishonest or rationalization, and doesn’t seem too eager to defend them, either. 🙂

  4. Grad Student says:


    You asked

    “Has anything evolved for you since we last talked?”

    Perhaps. A year ago I had high hopes for fitting into some sort of Liberal Christianity, but the fit is a difficult one, especially for someone like myself who was brought up as a conservative Christian. I suppose I may be moving towards more fully embracing agnosticism/atheism, but we’ll see.

    Another question for you. I am always moved by existential dilemmas such as those found in the twilight zone clip you referenced. However, I’m occasionally irked by the sort of evangelical tone you take on these matters. It’s as if you’re claiming that any atheist who does not feel existential dislocation and angst (i.e. Dennett) is shallow and perhaps unsophisticated (i.e. they haven’t read enough Sartre et al.). What if this issue is more a matter of temperament? Perhaps happy atheist X who doesn’t feel very much existential angst is fine with simply creating her own meaning in life.

  5. santitafarella says:

    Grad Student:

    It’s a fair criticism. Whatever is my contingent experience of the day I often project (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) as a universal.

    It’s something I have to check in myself: remind myself that my contingent vantage on the world is not your contingent vantage (or anyone else’s). I’m reasoning from my contingent vantage, and sometimes I forget that.

    But if you reject metaphysics—or at least find it dubious—where do you reason from (except your contingent vantage)?

    And I think it’s a human impulse to try to bring others into whatever contingent “dream of reason” you might be happening to have. Maybe bringing in others makes it all seem more plausible. The trick, as you read this blog, is to maintain your ironic distance from me. But you don’t seem to have difficulty in doing that at all. : )

    And temperament is, of course, a contingent—and often determinate—part of each individual’s existence. Perhaps you’ve heard of the notion, in psychotherapy, of the “evocative object world”: what waking dream are we walking in, and when are we in the same dream together? Why are we noticing one thing, and not another? What’s important? And why don’t others find the same things important?

    It’s hard, when we’re deep into a waking dream, to imagine how others might be indifferent to the vivid experience that we’re having.

    Sometimes I’m talking to someone and I realize that they are so lost in their own internal and contingent obsessions that it is simply impossible to have a convesation with them. We simply don’t cross in our perspectives or concerns. So I humor them, and let them talk. And I smile. And I play my bit part in their dream for the day. It’s okay.

    I suppose if Daniel Dennett had a conversation with me, he’d listen and smile at my angst, and then we would part ways and he’d go back to his obsessions and I to mine.

    Perhaps, if we remembered our Darwin, our Freud, and our Nietzsche, we would have some compassion for the others’ obvious (to us) errors in emphasis.

    I think of friends I have who are just obviously (to me) in the wrong relationship. But they are having their dream, I mine.

    I also think of Uma Thurman (Mia) in Pulp Fiction. I love the way she falls into the dream of her existence as she sits across from John Travolta (Vincent) in the celebrity diner scene. She thinks the conversation is everything—is so important and profound and built up. She can barely stand what everything means—the dynamics of her existence—and she takes everything in. She wants challenging conversation and experience.

    I think Mia is an admirable model for existence (at least for mine). I would wear a shirt that says, “What would Mia do?” She knows how to make her contingent experiences important, interesting, and large—even if they are just a peculiar dream that she’s having.


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