Divinity, Dawkins and A Pope

The War Between Religion and Science
by Ian R Thorpe

The Garden Of Eden by Lucas Cranach

As a non believer my interest in this topic was sparked when a contributor at gather.com using the name "Jojo the dog faced boy" posed the question Why are many rational people prepared to accept the divinity of Jesus? Jojo (a man of considerable intellect hiding behind a mask of Gumpish simplicity) is quite happy with the idea of Jesus as a historical reality but not with the Son of God, Immaculate Conception stuff. Personally I am more comfortable with the idea of Jesus as an aspect of the Divine that a person from factual history but there we go. The topic sparked a lively comment thread, with believers and non believers piling in to repeat the dogmas of their creed. A creed of non belief? you might well ask. Oh yes, there are several in fact. There are the followers of the pseudo liberal, crypto fascist political correctness cult whose philosophy is to make sure individualism, independent thought and personal belief are subsumed under a heavy cloak of orthodoxy so that all the people will on command hold hands and sing Kumbaya and by doing so banish poverty, injustice, disease and unfairness and create an instant utopia. Then there are the believers in the Obamessiah cult who are sure is people would stop thinking for themselves and accept the Obamessiah as their saviour then the economy would be fixed, nobody would have to work as the earth would give forth of it's own bounty and all the wars and conflicts would end overnight. Above them in the hierarchy of looniness come the science worshippers who believe the answers to all the great questions can be found in mathematical equations using numbers someone made up. A motley crew indeed. Next to them religious fundamentalists, young earth creationists and and people who believe in the soup dragon seem comparatively sane. But comment threads on questions such as the one Jojo posted always come down to "Does God exist?" "Why do people cling to religion when science is clearly omnipotent, omnipresent and infallible?" and "Why do people disagree with crypto fascist pseudo liberals when the latter are so obviously right about everything?"

The problem stems from the fact that believers in the new synthetic religions will persist in trying to answer questions that are unanswerable, to apply reason and logic to that which is irrational and illogical. When considering this question my mind is drawn to these lines written by Alexander Pope: Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; The proper study of mankind is man. Placed on this isthmus of a middle state, A being darkly wise, and rudely great: With too much knowledge for the sceptic side, With too much weakness for the stoic's pride, He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest; In doubt to deem himself a god or beast; In doubt his mind or body to prefer; Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err; Alike in ignorance, his reason such, Whether he thinks to little or too much; Chaos of thought and passion all confused; Still by himself abused, or disabused; Created half to rise, and half to fall; Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled; The glory, jest and riddle of the world! … (from An Essay On Man by Alexander Pope) Richard Dawkins, geneticist, author of The God Delusion and allegedly founder of the so – called militant atheism movement, has suggested that Prime Minister David Cameron is "not really" a believer in God but a "believer in belief", one of those people who, though in themselves non-believers in the divine deity, nonetheless believe in religion as a beneficial part of society, that faith is "good for the
Alexander Pope

community" and helps to bind the nation into a coherent cultural unit. Dawkins is rather presumptuous to assume he knows what Cameron really believes when The Prime Minister has said his faith "sort of comes and goes". David Cameron's confession of a "fairly classic sort of Church of England faith" may suggest a hypocritical position, his attitude towards whatever it is he thinks he should believe in being ambivalent until a show of piety is politically expedient. His enthusiasm for gay marriage hints at a certain moral relativism. But on the available evidence Mr. Cameron is no atheist and that Dawkins has no grounds for saying otherwise. (Apart of course from that , solipsistic "progressive liberal" / militant atheist assertion that "evidence is whatever one of us says it is.") Dawkins does raise an valid point however. There are a lot of people in every walk of life who believe that any kind of religious faith, even one that does not require a total belief in the existence of a supreme being, is better than none. Some say they find it comforting to think there is some higher power especially when they look at the mess humans have made of everything. Others while not deeply convinced of the presence of any superior being let alone one that is all knowing and all seeing, still find the feeling of belonging to, of being part of some kind of community with shared beliefs and values helps them cope with the vagaries of life. As guest editor of the New Statesman's Christmas issue this year, Dawkins wrote: "A depressingly large number of intelligent and educated people, having outgrown religious faith themselves, still vaguely presume without thinking about it that religious faith is somehow good for other people, good for society, good for public order,
Richard Dawkins

good for instilling morals." It is this attitude that lies behind Prince Charles's

reported wish to be known, when he eventually ascends to the British throne, as "Defender of Faiths" rather than as defender merely of the Anglican faith; and also behind the Tony Blair Faith Foundation with which the former prime minister, a

Catholic convert, is striving to unite the world's various religions as a force for social progress (Blair always was delusional). The idea that to believe in anything, whether it exists or not, is better than having no belief; and that any belief, however deluded, makes you a better person than a non-believer is hard to support. There is however scientific evidence that belief, ritual and superstition can help conquer illness and also enhance athletic and intellectual prowess. The Crux of Dawkins' questioning of David Cameron then is; "How can it be virtuous to believe in something that is obviously not true? Yet the whole point of belief is, is it not, to put faith in on something that cannot be proved? And we all, do we not, believe in things that have not and cannot be proved. Look at the scienceheads insistence that Big Bang is a fact. And yet all they can offer to support that assertion is mathematical speculation based on highly subjective interpretations of data gathered by capturing radio waves that have travelled across the universe for billions of years (allegedly – the radiation could be given off by anything really). To believe in the Big Bang theory of the origins of the Universe requires as great an act of faith as to believe in the creation myths of the traditional religions, probably greater in fact because apart from their fundamentalist fringes, the religions do not insist on a literal belief in these myths but accept they are just an attempt to make sense of a very big question we are never likely to know the true answer to. While Dawkins and his followers might scoff at belief his support in the scientific community is by no means unanimous. Colin Humphreys is, scientifically speaking, a materialist through and through. He is professor of materials science at Cambridge who believes in the power of science to explain the nature of matter. He believes that humans, like all other life forms, evolved through the action of natural selection upon random mutation. He is also a Baptist. He
Divinity: The Ancient Of Days by William Blake

believes in the story of Moses, as told in The Bible's book of Exodus. He believes in it enough to have

explored Egypt and the Holy Land in search of natural or scientific explanations for the story of the burning bush, the 10 plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the manna that fell in the wilderness. And he has written a book about it. "I believe that the scientific world view can explain almost anything," he says. "But I just think there is another world view as well." Tom McLeish is professor of polymer physics at Leeds. Supermarket plastic bags are polymers, but so are spider's silk, sheep's wool, sinew and flesh and bone. His is the intricate world of what is, and how it works, down to the molecular level. He delights in the clarity and power of science, precisely because it is questioning rather than dogmatic. "But the questions that arise, and the methods we use to ask them, can be traced back to the religious tradition in which I find myself. Doing science is part of what it means in that tradition to be human. Because we find ourselves in this puzzling, extraordinary universe of pain and beauty, we will also find ourselves able to explore it, by adopting the very successful methods of science," he says. Russell Stannard, emeritus professor of physics at the Open University. He is an atom-smasher, picking apart the properties of matter, energy, space and time, and the author of a delightful series of children's books about difficult concepts such as relativity and the mysterious forces that hold matter together. In a nutshell he's a scientist. Prof. Stannard not only believes incience, he believes in God and the Church of England. He, like Tom McLeish, is a lay reader in his church. He has contributed to the daily religious five minutes, Thoughts for the Day on BBC Radio 4, delivering self - penned homilies on the mysteries of existence. Does it worry him that scientists working in his own field claim they are near to being able to explain everything about the universe that has so far defied explanation; space, time matter and energy, without any need for a Creator figure? He replies to such questions, "No, because a starting point you can have is: why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there a world? Now I cannot see how science could ever provide an answer". Stannard will be one of a small group of scientists and theologians who try to find a middle way, a bridge over the gaping chasm that has been dug by Richard

Dawkins and other militant atheists. The Science and Religion Forum, founded by a group of scientists 25 years ago, meets regularly to discuss questions such as the place of humans in the universe. They are not likely to actually come up with an answer, but they will certainly give the question a bashing. The forum embraces what one of its founders, Arthur Peacock, pioneer of DNA research in Britain, called "wistful agnostics" and sceptics, as well as Christians and people from other faiths. "It's about how we can worship a creator God who is creating now, and still hold on to the scientific world view as we understand it," says Phil Edwards, who trained in physics but is now a chaplain to the Bolton Institute. Some years ago while working (as an I T consultant) for the UK Atomic Energy Authority I was surprised to find the nuclear industry had a very strong Christian association and also had a number of devout Muslims and Jews on board. Talking to these people however I learned that they do not share the opinion of scientists in academic institutions who take a very reductionist view of religion. In fact the nuclear physicists who worked on real world stuff were rather scornful of the theoreticians who seek to discover the secrets of the universe, believing such stuff is for amateurs as it deals in what cannot be observed or measured and thus proved or disproved. One of the regular subjects of The Science and Religion Forum is an ongoing discussion of the place of humans in the universe. To the scientific way of thinking, humans no more have a "place" in the scheme of things than hamsters or heffalumps. The universe itself may be an incomprehensible event, and life a so far unexplained one despite the hysterical claims of
Illustration 1: Origin of life?

some egotheistic scientists to have 'proved' life popped up spontaneously when certain chemicals came together near a volcanic vent on the primeval ocean floor. Whichever view you take, science sees no "purpose" in being. We are here because we're here because ..., an accident maybe but there was nothing inevitable about the

evolution of humanity, or its survival. God is not part of the scientific explanation. That is how scientists have grown to think since the beginning of the twentieth century, whether they come from a religious background or not. However modern science did not emerge 400 years ago to challenge religion, the orthodoxy of the past 2,000 years or to unravel the mysteries of the universe. Generations of thinkers and experimenters and observers both religious and secular had tried to explain how God worked his wonders. Modern physics began with a desire to explain the clockwork of God's creation, the mechanisms of the planets and stars, not to prove or disprove the existence of God. Modern geology grew at least partly out of searches for evidence of Noah's flood. Modern biology owes much to the urge to marvel at the wonders of Divine providence. Darwin was a Christian all his life but changed his views on certain aspects of the creation story. Scientists (a word coined only in 1833) who hoped to find God helped painted Him out of the picture. By the late 20th century, physicists were confident of the history of the universe back to the first thousandth of a second, and geneticists and biochemists were certain that all living things could be traced back to some last universal common ancestor that lived perhaps 3.5bn years ago. A few things, what actually happened in the Big Bang; how living, replicating things emerged from a muddle of organic compounds, remain riddles but these are glossed over with "Well we don't know yet but we soon will so long as we are given enough money for research," type answers. So although the debate did not start out as science versus religion, that is how many people now see it, two competing forces seeking the ascendency in the battle for hearts and minds. "A lot of people are surprised. I think people have grown up to believe that science and Christianity are at loggerheads, and that is what the average man in the street believes," says Colin Humphreys But where I differ from the people who say, OK, the universe started with a Big Bang - if it did, it's not too sure but let's say it did - and everything else was chance event, then I would say that God is the God of chance and He had His plan and purpose, which is working out very subtly, but through these chance events."

The real argument here is not about the importance of science, or its value to humanity. "You have to recognise that science is enormously powerful in going for the jugular, reducing complexity to its simple structures," said Tom McLeish in an address to the Science and Religion Forum . "But it puts it back together again, and that is important to stress, because, from Keats onwards, we have been accused of unweaving the rainbow, and never weaving it back again. That is not true. Doubt, expressed most potently 3,000 years ago in the biblical book of Job, is the greatest scientific tool ever invented, he says. To do good science, you have to doubt everything, including your ideas, your experiments and your conclusions (If onlt the science fanatics in internet comment threads could take on board that attitude). "People like Richard Dawkins characterise religion as doubtless, tub-thumping, blind certainty. But it isn't like that; he knows it is not like that. There is Job, on his ashheap, doubting everything, but wondering where the light comes from, and how the hail forms."

William Blake's illustration for The Book of Job

Robert Winston, the fertility expert, IVF pioneer, socialist and professor at Hammersmith Hospital is Jewish. This represents a huge tradition of values that are important to him. At the age of 30 he went back to the synagogue because, he felt, he needed the discipline of Judaism, although this is not quite the same as believing in God, and he confesses to having been through various phases of observance. In the

last chapter of his book The Human Instinct he said he felt it was very likely that spirituality, the feeling of connectedness with something beyond mortal life, something larger than ourselves had been important in survival during the Ice Age, and through periods of great deprivation. ]"The great question is whether or not that spirituality is God-given, or whether it actually evolved because it was needed," he wrote. "I'm still sitting on the fence." The origins of the universe, The place of humans in it, the origins of life on earth, does the divine exist in any real form, the meaning, if any, of life, the possibility of life after death, either in the form of reincarnation or being resurrected into another existence and the question of what existed before Big Bang are questions whose answers will all remain beyond the reach of science. Can theology or philosophy do better. Well maybe not, but they neither of these try for definitive answers. Instead they offer possibilities which individuals can try on for size. The mistake Richard Dawkins and the other science zealots make is to assume all religion is of the fundamentalist variety. Belief in belief for its own sake is so prevalent that it has been suggested many non believers feel compelled by peer pressure to profess a belief they do not feel. That may be so, all I can say is I have never felt such pressure. Strangely, if we observe society, it is often people who cannot or will not accept religious propositions for which no empirical evidence exists (though they may be willing to accept such notions from the science cultists) who tend to suffer more self-doubt and anxiety and are more likely to seek professional help in dealing with their self doubt and insecurities than those who are prepared to take that great leap into the dark and let God, Jesus, Allah or something into their lives. This insecurity among so many who deny faith and insist they are only interested in that which is supported by "scientific" evidence may help to explain why books denying the existence of the supernatural – Dawkins' God Delusion or Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great for example, have topped the non fiction best seller lists as atheists and agnostics seek affirmation. Even in our overwhelmingly secular, materialistic society, belief in God is still regarded as a socially acceptable position

while non-believers need constant reassurance that their atheism is in fact a rational lifestyle choice. In my experience it is not what one believes in that is important but the belief itself. Maybe there is something in the idea that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed on in your philosophies" Prof. Dawkins, after all. RELATED POSTS: Quantum Soul I am not a Marxist for the same reasons as I am not a Creationist Why The Intellectual Elite Truly Despise The Lower Classes The Gods Of Copybook Headings Getting Started With Existentialism Quantum Metaphysics The Flight From Freedom Pigs Will Fly Armageddon Philo and Sophia Loony Scientist WLTM Gullible Woman