In 1997, for example, an International Academy of Humanism statement in defense of human cloning—whose signatories included scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins—went out of its way to attack the special dignity of human beings. “Humanity’s rich repertoire of thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and hopes seems to arise from electrochemical brain processes, not from an immaterial soul that operates in ways no instrument can discover.” They concluded “it would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.”

Here’s the problem: Almost no one really believes this. Not, at least, when it comes to how we behave. And the dichotomy between scientific theory and human action may itself have something to tell us about truth.

That’s not to deny electrochemical brain processes and the like. It is to say that much as we may assent to the idea that we are but matter in motion, seldom do we act that way. We love. We fight. We distinguish between the good and noble and the bad and base. More than just religion, our literature and our politics and our music resonate precisely because they speak to these things…

To put it another way, while we talk about the clash between God and science, in practice it often comes down to disagreements about man and morals. The boundaries are not always neat. Many Americans who are indifferent to faith will confess they find themselves challenged as they try to raise good and decent children without the religious confidence their parents had. The result may not be a return to religion but a healthy agnosticism about agnosticism itself.