Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Science and Religion Again. Sorry.

Ever since my Imperial Darwin post, I have been building up my strength with beef tea and arrowroot biscuits in order to return to this damned science-religion thing. Robert Winston now forces my hand, so here goes. Certain high profile scientists - Dawkins, Weinberg, Atkins, Wolpert - and philosophers - Dennett, Grayling - have chosen to criticise, abuse or undermine religion. They do this out of a sense of mission. 'Anything scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion,' says Weinberg, 'should be done and may in the end be our greatest contribution to civilisation.' What normally happens in response to this is that everybody starts shouting and then goes home happy that they were right about everything all along. Nobody stands back and sees the big picture.
I shall attempt, once more, to do so. The core issue is not the science of Dawkins and friends, nor is it their opinions, nor is it even their visceral dislike of faith; it is, rather, their decision to go on the offensive. This places science in the opinion marketplace, one view among many others. But science is a process embodied in institutions. It is not a posture, position or party-line; it is, so to speak, a background phenomenon, a canvas on which we paint our pictures, not the pictures themselves. Using science as a public posture threatens either to compromise science itself by forcing it to adapt to the rhetoric of opinion or to turn it, once again, into a tool of tyranny. It also demeans science.
Furthermore, statements like that of Weinberg encourage the delusion that science possesses some higher wisdom about human affairs. The truth is that science has nothing practical to say about the conduct of human affairs. Maybe one day it will have something to say. But, until then, we must rely on the complexities of the world as it is and that includes relying on religion, philosophy, art, custom and and all the other non-scientific forms of wisdom through which we attempt to give meaning and order to our lives. Making political, economic, social or personal decisions on the basis of current science would be more risky than tossing dice.
In this context, the idea that destroying one particular body of wisdom and custom will make the world a better place can be seen as profoundly irrational if not downright deranged. All the justifications for the current anti-science offensive pale into insignificance next to these considerations. The threat of fundamentalism - Christian or Islamic - is misunderstood; it is, apart from anything else, a reaction to triumphalist scientism and, therefore, a clear indication of the dangers of thrusting science into the foreground.
There are many ways in which what I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to be said. There's another. Go ahead. Misunderstand.

80 comments:

  1. OK, I have misunderstood because it sounds to me like a clever fundamentalist argument to derail the attacks that Dawkins et al have launched. I find it difficult to place "Religion" and "wisdom" in the same sentence unless the words lack of figure in there somewhere.

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  2. Not again. Please. Take it back. You really are incorrigible, Byran. I haven't had my beef tea and arrowroot bickies. I'm drugged up on penicillin and Nurofen and I've a bastard of a day ahead in work. Anyway, I'm sure you'll get a good 25 comments this time round. I hope Gordon makes a contribution, as I'm usually more or less with him when this topic crops up (he's done all the work to get to his opinions, I've just mastered the art of nodding sagely). Don't let me down, Gordon.

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  3. Bryan's views here are very close to my own.

    The first thing to say is that I've never seen Dawkins lose a debate. But that doesn't make his overall project worthwhile or even meaningful.

    I don't believe Dawkins and Weinburg represent 'science' in a 'science vs religion' debate. Science is the business of gathering facts. They are using conclusions from science to make religious arguments.

    I don't share their vision of a post-religious utopia and I don't understand why they want to attack everything about religion as if it had nothing of value in human affairs. Religiosity is part of humanity. If you don't see that, then you don't understand or love humans - you're just another dangerous utopian who thinks people are getting in the way of perfection.

    What was wrong with attacking intolerance and extremism? Atheists and the religious mainstream were nicely united in this. Why lump it all in together?

    (Besides which, Dawkins's approach is self-defeating. Religion was fading away anyway in this country before he started poking at it with a stick.)

    (As a full disclosure, I don't have any religious beliefs at all, though I have a pretty good 'feel' for religion.)

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  4. That is actually a pretty good stab at it. I can see that the Grocer is awaiting the arrival of Gordon McCabe before slipping on his team colours and heading out onto the pitch. I haven't got time to play but whatever Peter Burnet says would probably be fine with me.

    But Bryan, well done. On fraught and febrile territory you have actually managed to make a good point which I think anybody would find it hard to rant and rave against. Although they still will, of course.

    Besides that, what are you doing out of bed at 5.30am? Downright uncivilised.

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  5. Thanks, Brit and Recusant. Recusant. I am well known as the dawn poster

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  6. A much needed view, very clearly explained!

    I would like, if you don’t mind, to translate this entry to Spanish and post it to my blog (with a link pointing here). Here in Spain Dawkins' last book has just appeared and it is arousing a lot of uncritical praise…

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  7. Well said, Bryan. I really struggle to understand the extremism of Dawkins et al on this matter. To rail so vehemently against something they believe does not exist would be funny were it no so sinister: how can they fail to see the irony of their own blind faith in the omniscience of science?

    As I believe you have said before, Bryan, most science is wrong most of the time - in terms of how our understanding changes profoundly over the course of human history - except it always appears to be right.

    Science is essentially amoral. A failure to apply that inchoate understanding of humanity to it can, as Brit states, lead to dangerous utopianism. And has.

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  8. Dawkin, son of Hawkin, of the House of Atheism, was full of pride, and gave counsel to the king that they should forsake secrecy and engage the enemy in open battle. The sword of Science was forged anew for Dawkin by the smiths of academia, and its edges glinted with a spectral flame.

    As a bitter winter fell upon the land, a fell mood lay on Dawkin's heart, and it was said that he could not be slain in battle, and the theists fled before his face.

    In the fortress of Appleband, the dark lord bided his time, gathering his strength. In the chill spring of the following year, a host of theists entered the land of Science, and amongst that host was Applerung the Dragon.

    Dawkin and the men of Science met them in combat, but none could withstand Applerung, and the men of Science were driven back and defeated. Dawkin's friend, Dennett Cuthalion, was slain beside him, and the host of theists captured Dawkin's love, Lalla, and bore her away. Then Dawkin stood alone, fire in his eyes as he confronted Applerung.

    Alas, Dawkin stared into the eyes of Applerung, and fell under the dreadful spell of the dragon. "If you wish to be slain, I will slay you," said the dragon, "but small help that will be to Lalla. Go now to your kin!"

    And under that dreadful spell, Dawkin rode North, out of the land of Science, and ever did it seem to him that he could hear the cries of Lalla, calling his name by wood and hill.

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  9. Oh fair enough, Gordon, I'll buy that.

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  10. I agree with your sentiments Bryan, and interested in what you say about science as a background phenomenon or framework. I guess you'd say that religion can function in a similar way. Obviously there are big differences (at least i htink there ought to be), but it's interesting that, for some people at least, they function as rival frameworks - science as the new religion, catholicism as the new marxism, or vica-versa or whatever.
    So how do we clarify the boundaries? Difficult question given the conceptual innovations that are occurring in both science and theology. Gawd knows

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  11. i shall try to encourage a fundamentalist Xian who's also a Chemist to comment on this.

    i see from Gordon McCabe's post that he too sees Appleyard as a natural slayer of men & chavs. It's not just me. In time, however, having consumed enough biscuits, Appleyard will pass beyond merely anticipating abuse, and will learn to relish it.

    And then the chavs will tremble indeed. Dawkins is clearly a chav of some sort, probably from Sunderland. i spit on his expensive ADIDAS trainers.

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  12. "Besides which, Dawkins's approach is self-defeating. Religion was fading away anyway in this country before he started poking at it with a stick." No, Brit you are wrong on this. Religion was not fading away. The Evangelicals began their march long before Dawkins started out on this path. I see his work as a direct reaction to the extraordinary rise of this particular kind of Christian fundamentalism. I live in a South Cambridgeshire village that has suffered extremely from Evangelical "creep", a brand of Christianity that says if you are not with us, you are against us; that encourages its worshippers to adopt a sort of kraal mentality; that believes that all children are born evil and should be educated at home to ensure they don't pick up any nasty secular habits. Give me the wishy-washiness and tolerance of the old-fashioned C of E any day.

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  13. Compare a dawkins like fundamentalist who'd die before sending his kids to a church school. Moderation and tolerance is what we need, and that has to be part of the framework.

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  14. Using science to attack religion is similar to using science to attack anything aesthetic. Painting, plays, poetry and all the way down to true beauty of the well struck conker. Some just do not see it and never will. Science provide aid to life, nothing else. Religion, painting plays poetry prose and so, is life. Leastwise human life.

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  15. well, how many bleeding swallows make a summer? the 'bigger picture' sees these few names needing to support their chosen lifestyles and they do it by making a lot of noise and getting noticed. the majority of us, left to contemplate our own small navels, don't give a damn.

    the majority: look, we want answers, and we don't care where from just as long as it's NOW!

    the trouble with religion, fundamentally, is its unquestionable assertion of the unquestionable truth. it's saying, don't listen to these other guys, they're wrong.

    all science is saying is, well let's just examine this truth first...

    there are loads of scientists with religious faith and loads of religios who don't mind a bit of science - this is the normal world. nobody really cares whether the truth is proven or not.

    truth and evil are ephemeral twins, the bastard children of mama philosophy, and they only exist when mama's thinking about them. think about it.

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  16. Good on you Bryan -- but one shouldn't suggest in any way that Dawkins and his godbaiting brigade are speaking on behalf of science. They are only speaking on behalf of themselves and their psychological hang-ups

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  17. Among today's educated and intellectual classes, religion is a little like smoking in that the further they distance themselves from any exposure to it, the more hostile they become to it and the more wild fables they tell themselves about its dangers. If you believe that the material, observable and measurable are the sum total of reality, you will find a material explanation for everything, and you will gradually become increasingly hostile to those who disagree with you and ever more casual about the evidence supporting your own claims.

    Dawkins & co basically play the trick of insisting scripture is a textbook on natural history and demanding religion prove itself by scientific standards. It can't be done, but the more interesting question is why so many today think that the challenge is profound. He would have been laughed out of court in earlier times. It's the mark of a closed mind and Dawkins is helping keep those minds closed by offering unsubstantiated scientific explanations for completely non-biological phenomenon, generally related to human nature. His theory of memes is now so popular and ingrained that folks don't pay any mind anymore to the fact that they don't exist. His theories of altruism as determined geneticially are patently absurd and contrary to everything we experience around us, but hey, we've got to fill in those gaps somehow. And then there are all those hilarious just-so stories the paleontologists can't get enough of. All this is why it is perfectly fair to accuse scientism of being a competing faith.

    And Bryan is right that that the increasingly aggressive materialist mentality is putting the religious (often less formally educated but well-versed in life)on the defensive and causing a reaction. Two generations ago, fundamentalists and evangelicals were not even on the radar screen in American politics. In The Language of God firm Darwinist and firm Christian Francis Collins gets off the most delicious shot I've seen in a long time when he refers to Intelligent Design as Dawkins's and Dennett's love child.

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  18. Brit says:
    "The first thing to say is that I've never seen Dawkins lose a debate"
    but I have! It was some 8-10 years ago at Institute for Education where he was debating with Steven Jay Gould. He was definitely the loser.

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  19. The truth is that science has nothing practical to say about the conduct of human affairs. Maybe one day it will have something to say. But, until then, we must rely on the complexities of the world as it is and that includes relying on religion, philosophy, art, custom and and all the other non-scientific forms of wisdom through which we attempt to give meaning and order to our lives.

    possible misunderstanding. you're not suggesting scientific wisdom be left out of this attempt at establishing meaning and order? I think it would be included within that complex group.

    Making political, economic, social or personal decisions on the basis of current science would be more risky than tossing dice.

    that's just silly. science can be informative. who wouldn't want to make an informed choice?

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  20. I wonder, how many of the visitors here have seen Mathew Parris's article "Shout your doubt out loud, my fellow unbelievers" in The Times (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article1685452.ece)

    Bryan, what do you say?

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  21. Rebel, I've no objection to anything Parris says here. I'm perfectly happy for people to shout their disbelief as I am for them to shout their belief. My point is more exact since it involves pointing out a confusion of categories and a failure to understand science. I should say that I have never met a serious and reasonable non-shouty scientist who would disagree with a word I say. Ian, of course scientific wisdom is part of this process. And when you say informed choice, you are using two terms. Science may provide information but choice is made in a much broader context

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  22. they do this out of a sense of mission.

    the core issue is... their decision to go on the offensive.


    I would say that the first mission was the religious mission, asserting their absolute truths.

    there needs to be an opposition to this assertion - it can't go unquestioned. it isn't a requirement for opposition to make more sense, just to be in opposition. (like, I didn't like Mary Whitehouse but I saw ther need for her).

    so, who or what is to oppose religious belief if it is not science? other religious beliefs? tried that.

    I see nothing wrong with scientists having a go. Really, it's as much down to the way these things are reported that gives science a bad name.

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  23. I'm just saying if science reduces the likely outcome to 1 in 2, you'd ditch the dice in favour of a penny. :D

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  24. science is not the only thing that can oppose religion, philosophy can. (i'm not saying it should, but just that it's perhaps in a better position to clarify some of the assumptions at work on both sides of the debate)

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  25. yes, philosophers too. but they're not coming forward.

    anyway, I think that would be too much for us ordinary blokes, daily mail, man on the clapham omnibus etc.

    we perfectly understand ''scientist'', but a philosopher - what's that? some egghead in a toga!

    it has to have mass appeal to square up to science and religion.

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  26. Fiona:

    Yes, science is corrosive to religion, but only when it is combined with philosophy.

    Peter:

    I don't think any of those things you mention (memes, sociobiological 'just so' stories, genetic explanations of altruism etc) mean that what what Dawkins has counts as a 'faith'.

    They are all in a different category and perfectly valid science.

    No, where Dawkins falls into the 'faith' trap is in his Grand Project - which is an unachievable and potentially destructive utopianism.

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  27. Translated to Spanish and posted
    here. Thank you!

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  28. Well Brit, if those are science, I'd like to know what science they are. They sure aren't biology. What scientific evidence is there that memes exist?

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  29. Brit, i'd say that science is corrosive to religion only when it's not combined with philosphy, because philosophy can show us that the two do not necessarily stand in opposition.
    As for science and philos, well i think that a philosopher is anyone who is capable of reflecting upon these issues - maybe Bryan wears a toga, given his early hours - and it doesn't have be obscure and incomprehensible. I think that science is a lot more difficult to understand, and our grasp is pretty tenuous.

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  30. The idea that Chesterton said "When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything" is a good example of a meme.

    Manbags are another, and possibly black cherry yoghurts too. It's just a neat way of describing bytes of culture and fashion. Not even Dawkins thinks they are existential beings with little memey brains trying to control you, Peter.

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  31. No, Brit, it's an aphorism. Repeat after me: "An aphorism and a meme are different. An aphorism and a meme are different...".

    Oh gawd, I suddenly have this premonition you are about to treat us to your theory on how natural selection explains Shakespeare and car design. Duck, everyone!

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  32. You argue, Bryan, that "science has nothing practical to say about the conduct of human affairs", and that statements such as Weinberg's "encourage the delusion that science possesses some higher wisdom about human affairs." However, people such as Dawkins and Weinberg are not arguing that science provides wisdom or a practical guide to human conduct. They argue that the metaphysics and morals of religion should be replaced by science and non-religious ethics.

    You argue that "the idea that destroying one particular body of wisdom and custom will make the world a better place can be seen as profoundly irrational," but what wisdom, exactly, has religion brought to the world? For example, the Catholic church has taught for 800 years that babies who die before being baptised cannot go to heaven, and must instead be confined in limbo. Exacerbating the grief of bereaved parents is not the type of 'wisdom' I want to preserve in the world.

    Or alternatively, what sort of wisdom and practical guide to human conduct does religious belief offer us on a geopolitical basis? Well George Bush and Tony Blair are famously religious. George is sceptical about evolution, and Tony, of course, revealed on 'Parkinson' that the only person fit to judge his actions is God. Michael Cockerell asked General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the British Army, what he thought motivated Blair in Iraq. "He replied that it came from Blair’s strong moral sense: 'I know that he is an avowed Christian, and therefore those Christian principles are probably deep in his make-up.'

    " 'People underestimate how important religion is to Tony,' says Peter Hyman, his former strategy adviser at No 10. 'He’s someone who reads a lot of religious books. That’s what he enjoys doing in his spare time. I remember once suggesting I get him some novels for his summer holiday and he said no, he wanted to read religious books. So he phoned up the library at No 10 and asked for some obscure 12th-century book on Christianity to take to the beach with him.'"

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  33. Referring back to sophie king's objection to ascribing to Dawkins the responsibility for provoking a religious revival, I think she has to be right. The growth of the evangelical movement did indeed precede Dawkins' assaults on it but, to refer back to Bryan's original statement, this revival was undoubtedly a reaction to the "scientific triumphalism" that preceded Dawkins. His increased belligerence has come about because he has recognised that this triumphalism was losing its status as the established truth. In other words, the evangelical revival was a reaction to which Dawkins, and others in his militant atheist camp, are a counter-reaction.
    None of which makes any difference to any of Bryan's points in his post, with which I concur absolutely.

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  34. Sorry Bryan - this is a bit naughty. Friday May 11th 8pm, Little Shelford (Cambridge) church hall: "What would God say to Richard Dawkins?". Our evangelicals are striking back. It should be an entertainingly heated debate to which I shall go with my secularist (yet tolerant) hat on.

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  35. River of deceitApril 25, 2007 1:23 pm

    Religion is more natural than science. It comes from an impulse to embrace the complexities of the universe. To feel the universe in all it's vastness by recognising your own insignificance.
    Meditation and religious contemplation probably do a better job than science- which paradoxically is trying to do the same thing.
    Religion strives for inner peace whereas science(these days) is striving for outer peace. Of the two the latter is the most unattainable and therefore more faith driven.

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  36. i'm no intellectual or anything, but it seems to me some of you are absolutely identifying 'religion' with the worst aspects of Christianity.

    There are plenty of other religions, and even Xianity wasn't always about witch burning and torture and castration - sometimes it was about cathedrals and the BVM suckling criminals who called on her name, and all that kind of thing.

    If you chuck out all religions and all apprehension of a beyond-rational reality because one religion was often rotten, you lose other things too. Chavs simply would not be possible in a god-fearing nation: to quote Patton, "God will not allow it". It's you liberals with your damn bunsen burners and genes and frappuccinos, who deny not only God but anything other than the basest, deadest materialism, who have opened the door to chavs.

    Your friend and hero Joseph Stalin likewise thought science was the answer to everything, and that religion should be banned.

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  37. Well done, Gordon, Son of the Helmeted One.

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  38. At elberry's invitation, my take on the matter as a fundamentalist xtian chemist:

    Bryan's comment that "science is a process embodied in institutions" seems right on to me. Science means scientific method and the results of it; scientific philosophy is rumination on what kind of knowledge you can get through science, and is something that scientists don't generally care about; we're scientists, not philosophers, and we have a job to do.

    Dawkins & co. insist that scientific philosophy is important, and not only that but it needs blowing up into an overarching (materialist) philosophy like logical positivism or its ilk. Their subtle aesthetics hold that this is the only philosophical garment that doesn't colour-clash with science, or something. This is silly, as a lot of not only scientific work but also development of scientific method & philosophy has been done by avowed theists (eg Newton, Descartes, the Bacons), so clearly you can base science perfectly well on a more supernature-friendly philosophy than they hold. But really, the thing is that materialism needs science and accepts no other paths to knowledge: we non-materialist types have blind obedience and fervour-induced hallucinations &c, we're not pure in our appreciation of science like materialists are. We don't love her like the materialists do. Hands off!

    That said, I have to take issue with the idea that science can't tell you anything useful about human nature and affairs. The entire point of the discipline of Psychology is that it can - although admittedly you shouldn't rely on a clinical dissection of human nature too heavily, psychologists have a bit of a rep for having messed-up personal lives (at university, anyway) - seeing human beings in terms of abstractions and data clearly has its limits and dangers.

    Gordon, re: Exacerbating the grief of bereaved parents is not the type of 'wisdom' I want to preserve in the world. - incredible - your illustration of why religion is bad n rong is to name a doctrine you don't like (fair enough), but as evidence for it you actually link to a story about the catholic church dropping said doctrine...

    Elberry, to be fair, citing Stalin at materialists is like citing Torquemada to Xtians, or Robespierre to people who like the idea of liberty, fraternity & equality. I'm also not sure about how liberal a bunsen burner is - I suspect a lot of more conservative types have used them without serious problems. Frappucinos I will not judge.

    -- James A.

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  39. Oh dear.

    I find so much of this depressing.

    Religion in all its glories is the masqurading of superstition promoted by the logically challenged as true wisdom and is used to control the unknowing unthinking masses ( women in Islam particularly ).

    Religious Faith, that uncontradictable statement by the ingnorant of the unproveable, both prevents progress and is the cause of much angst/pain/war/hate throughout history

    Science is all - albeit the study and understanding of a moving and ever changing target. We are but a bunch of atoms like everything else in all universes.

    Religion purposely engages the god answer rather than a real answer. It stops dead all questioning and reasoning.

    I suspect that religious belief will eventually come to be regarded as some form of mental derangement.

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  40. Lordy, lordy, looks who's 40! FORTY comments that is.

    It's amazing to me that this science/faith argument is still so fiery. I suppose it must be because faith is not quantifiable, it just is. So highly intelligent people who have it have a hell of a time backing up their arguments with evidence.

    But I seem to have it, even as I revere science. Can't help it; it's there. Once I remember talking to an ex-Catholic priest who had become an atheist -- a pretty horrifying about-face, but he just couldn't get the answer he wanted from God so he decided there was no God, there was nothing beyond this realm.

    I remember my first thought, which I said: "Just because you don't know what there is, why do you assume there is nothing?"

    That's how I feel about it. As Gordon could tell us, we are minuscule specks of carbon dust; about as close to nothing as you can get in the context of the universe. Our senses are limited; our knowledge isn't even extensive enough to keep us from destroying each other and the planet. We seem to learn nothing, for we keep making the same mistakes over and over. If we are the apex -- if our "science" is the height of knowledge and design -- then we really are screwed.

    I refuse to believe we're it. There's a larger design and all you have to do is read some cosmology to see that there are laws of being that regulate everything, even chaos.

    There. My thoughts, which no one will probably read because 41st comment is way the hell down the list!

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  41. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  42. Also, could someone please tell me what a "chav" is?

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  43. Susan, a chav is a terrible thing. They're the English equivalent of white trash. They generally live on state benefits, which they supplement by robbery and begging (or 'gouching'). They have shaved heads and wear sports clothes, and hoods and/or baseball caps. They usually look strangely ratlike.

    They are savage, but also cowardly - so they'll kick a homeless man to death, but will shrink before the ire of a decent, violence-loving citizen such as myself. i've had several altercations with chavs, and they always back down, even when (as in one case), it was me & a friend versus about seven of them.

    They are the visible manifestation of the rot at the heart of our society. Materialists are just one step away from being chavs.

    There are some - myself among them - who believe that when he's not writing, Appleyard is running them over in his sinister, unmarked black truck. If he is in fact a chav killer, Appleyard is fighting for England on two fronts: in his writing, and in his sinister, unmarked black truck of death.

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  44. Thank you, guys, for the definition. I know just the type -- we have 'em here, too. Too much crystal meth.

    And, Brit, your poem is *brilliant*! Now I feel bad for having chastised you severely just now in the France thread.

    Forgive me.

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  45. surely we're not having a pop at science - good god, how ungrateful - but having a pop at a few crazy scientists.

    whereas religion... it's a church. you're all in it together.

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  46. Thanks for that Bryan. Good to see the voice of reason coming through, although why it's not coming from the scientific community is anyone's guess.
    Me personally, I am not religious but i do believe in god; that may seem like a contradiction but it isn't. To me it seems like Dawkins et al have just taken a seat in the eternal debate of who's god is best, their seat being called 'No God'. For me developing a faith was not an easy choice, but one i was forced into by the hell my life had become.
    But this debate is good, if only because it's a prelude to a more relevant one about quality and sincerity of faith. Forgive me for being contentious but 90% of all religious people i see have no faith, just dogma. If they actually believed in an all powerful deity they'd see there is no need to to be afraid of anything, no need to be angry at any group, no need to do anything other than live a happy simple life, no need to brainwash their children before they have the ability to make a concious choice of their own.

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  47. A good 25 comments. I was way off the mark. What's your recond, Bryan? Because if it's close to it, I'll send in a few more just to beat it.

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  48. It is amazing that in an age and society that we are told is uninterested in religion and the metaphysical that any post - here or elsewhere - and any article that touches on the subject gets such a massive response.

    Why is that? It must speak to some sense that these are BIG issues that, even if not factual and concrete, are important to us as humans.

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  49. "Chavs simply would not be possible in a god-fearing nation: to quote Patton, "God will not allow it".

    This is sarcasm, right?

    As we all know, Christendom never suffered from unruly, ill-employed lower class vagrants. Never any reason to ship criminally-minded derelicts to overseas colonies.

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  50. Recusant.

    It is that way because it is a black and white issue.

    Ignorance Vs Striving for truth.

    No floppy mysticism. no Pantheism.

    Just smug god botherers who >know best< in blind faith, rather than inquisition and proof.

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  51. But Simian Sam the world is littered with Black and White issues that attract no interest at all. Or vituperative comment.

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  52. Yes recursant there are many B & W issues.

    But this is the ultimate manifestation. Truth Vs Mumbo-Jumbo. Control Vs Freedom. Progression Vs Regression.

    It is so sad that we have faiths.... embedding into our children all the partisan ignorance, fear & nonsense of the past.

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  53. River of DeceitApril 25, 2007 4:54 pm

    "I suspect that religious belief will eventually come to be regarded as some form of mental derangement"

    I seriously doubt this. Most secularists believe religion is something that can be removed from us. They never bother to ask themselves where it comes from. If religion is an irrational belief it's because human beings themselves are fundamentally irrational.

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  54. recusant, there is a world of difference between uninterested in taking it up and uninterested in taking it on.

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  55. Ian

    I couldn't agree more. Whether taking it up or on, people are interested.

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  56. Oh, all those poor, proselytized children!

    Mine aren't, c'est sur. My husband is a scientist and does not believe in a higher power. He's fine with the fact that I do. We have given our kids rules for living: Do unto others; be kind whenever you can; use the table manners we taught you (endlessly); be a good listener and when you talk, add something; love your friends and family because they are, and you are; own a pet, because they offer great solace and they know what matters in life (love, sleep, food, play); treat the earth well, travel whenever you can and enjoy all the world has to offer; learn another language; take joy in food and other pleasures; indulge your curiousity, read, read, read; visit art galleries; listen to music; trust your own judgment, but test it endlessly; keep an open mind, and so on.

    Anyway, we have an 18-year-old daughter who is a budding scientist (into biotechnology) and agnostic. Her best friend is a deeply religious Christian. Neither proselytizes; they live and let live, listen to each other's world views, but pursue their own.

    We have a 13-year-old son who used to lament that we didn't take him to church, and he's been exploring various faiths through reading, visiting churches, synagogues, and mosques with a variety of friends. He's reading the Koran right now and enlightening us with various nuggets of wisdom from there. Kid has a genius IQ *and* a sense of humor, so who knows where it will take him.

    In our house, the motto is live and let live. Why can't it be so in the world?

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  57. River of DeceitApril 25, 2007 5:56 pm

    "In our house, the motto is live and let live. Why can't it be so in the world?"

    Because control freaks on both sides want an arguement.

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  58. Nah, it's because reality is driven into contradiction by the force of the dialectic. But fear not, there is light on the horizon, we shall reach the point where these opposites are unified at a higher level of thought.

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  59. Duck, yup i'm being ironic. Although i do see chavs as symptoms of a land without any meaning beyond the next buck.

    Susan, your house sounds truly civilized!

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  60. Congratulations, Bryan. I reckon this blog of yours is taking off. Now, I hope you will not be tempted to sneak in a science/religion angle too often just to get the hits - that would be a cynical ploy. You'll go straight to hell.

    Susan, if that kid of yours is as smart as you say and he has a sense of humour too, he's bound to reject all religions. Apart from none of them making any sense, religion just isn't funny.

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  61. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  62. Twelve hours later but having re-read now I have finally woken up I have some questions. Surely Dawkins places himself in the opinion marketplace not science as you assert. Is Dawkins not simply painting pictures on the backgound phenomenon in the same way others with religous beliefs are doing?
    Are you suggesting that we end debate on the subject when you suggest we should "rely on the complexities of the world as it is"?

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  63. Neil, it's only not funny when you believe it.

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  64. Right enough, I don't remember them rolling in the aisles the last I visited a church. And while I think I have a fairly good sense of humour myself, I didn't find much of it funny. A lot of old material, which was a bit disappointing. However, the one about turning the other cheek had me in stitches. I like that kind of risque stuff.

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  65. Susan B., happy to helpApril 25, 2007 10:43 pm

    Neil, check this out:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2141050/

    Hilarious blog about the Bible. David Plotz, Jewish guy & witty writer, is reading through it and interpreting each chapter (and a lot of the verses). Great way to refresh your memory. And if you study Irish writers or Southern ones, you'd darn sure better know your Bible!

    Plotz' analyses, even if you don't agree with 'em (and lots won't), are way better than the dull sermons you doubtless had to listen to as a Catholic boy in Ireland (I'm assuming, at any rate).

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  66. "It is so sad that we have faiths.... embedding into our children all the partisan ignorance, fear & nonsense of the past."

    Again, there's a difference between faith and religion. But i agree, the force feeding of our kids with ideology before they have the ability to make up their own minds is tantamount to abuse.

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  67. I dipped into that blog, Susan. It's great. Very droll. For example : You can call it "original sin," but maybe it was just lax parenting. I like that.

    What is Jewish humour? Is that an example? I love that old joke about the two Jewish women in the restaurant. One says to the other: The food in here is terrible. And the other replies: Yes, and the portions are so small. Is that Jewish humour?

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  68. rupe:

    Do you and the others here who hold that view really mean it or are you just having rhetorical fun? Would you be happy if the child protection authorities removed children from their parents for sending them to Sunday School or a yeshiva?

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  69. "Force feeding kids with ideology" is also known as socialization, and it's one of the main points of parenting.

    But of course it's a horror when someone else's ideological teachings clash with our own.

    But nobody is without ideology.

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  70. Ah, Oro, you are showing your age. You seem to suffer from the old-fashioned and oppressive notion that children are born undisciplined, selfish blobs that need molding through love, education and discipline. Haven't you heard they are born innocent, perfect and creative and are destined to write a bestseller or win an Olympic gold medal if parents don't warp their fragile psyches by telling them anything about their beliefs or experience?

    Also, I'm really struck by the number of people whose idea of tolerance extends only to things and ideas they don't particularly disagree with in the first place.

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  71. "Duck, yup i'm being ironic. Although i do see chavs as symptoms of a land without any meaning beyond the next buck."

    I see them as symptoms of a land without universal conscription.

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  72. @Peter and Oro

    I was more referring to extremism and absolutism.
    As for teaching kids values of course you need to do that. Teaching your toddlers to boycott army funerals because they now employ homosexuals is just wrong tho. Teaching them to be ashamed of their own bodies is wrong. Forcing them to your way of thinking is wrong. Let alone teaching them that if they strap some c4 to themselves and blow up some infidels they'll go to paradise.
    Telling them to do their homework, be nice to one another etc is just common sense.

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  73. Yes, I agree with all that you've written, rupe, but if one is truly religious, then THAT is the most important thing that one can teach one's children, for what could be more important than one's relationship with God? (Assuming, again, that one is highly religious).

    So I pity those who get nurtured badly and dysfunctionally, but the solution is to change the minds and attitudes of adults, so that they teach their children better things, not to quit teaching children those things that we value most.

    It's worked for racism, in America - GenX isn't very racist, a testimony to the very-racist-but-ashamed-of-it Boomers what raised them.

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  74. FOR EMINENT PHYSICISTS

    God must be glad to see them play
    Like kittens in the sun
    Delighted with the wisps of hay
    Blown from His haggard on a breezy day...
    Time's kittens have your fun.

    Patrick Kavanagh (1905-1967)

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  75. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." And we all know there's no talking to a fool.

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  76. It is obvious to almost anybody that there is a staggeringly grand and enormous degree of order in the universe. It appears, moreover, that this must always have been so.
    I am often asked by my students the following questions; (1) is there a God? and (2) Do scientists believe in God?
    They get told by me that

    (1) I believe that There Is, but that He supports Darwin and Dawkins, and that
    (2) I don't know and have not known many scientists, especially physicists, who are atheists. The majority-atheists are biologists in my experience, which is odd. Can anybody explain why? As a Biochemist (there days, a sort of physicist I suppose) I cannot.

    Dawkins has never said (in my understanding of his work)that There Is No God. He has merely argued that the idea of a God is not necessary for evolution to work, nor for organised living beings to exist; their ultimate arrival depends only of physical laws prevalent everywhere (we think) to be true. this is all very well but what set "the six numbers" in the first place, more than 14 billion years ago? As a scientist I am quite happy with the proposition that God wants us to find out how to Know What Is In His Mind, in the end. DD

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