Religion and Science -- 3
posted on 07.20.2006 at 2:09 AM
Stephen Jay Gould, whose book Wonderful Life is among my favorites, deserves a hearing on this subject.
Gould, in one of his columns for Nature, speaks of something he calls NOMA or "nonoverlapping magisteria" ("magisteria," a term borrowed from Pope Pius of all people, meaning, for those of us who managed to avoid Latin, "areas of teaching authority"). Gould sees in this way of looking at things:
the principled resolution of supposed "conflict" or "warfare" between science and religion. No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority.
So Gould here seems to be aligning himself with the why-can't-we-all-be-friends view of the relationship between science (or specifically evolution) and religion. That puts him with the archbishop of Canterbury and Madeline Bunting against (not for the first time) Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett:
The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch cliches, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.
Gould describes himself as "not, personally, a believer or a religious man in any sense of institutional commitment or practice" and as an "agnostic." Perhaps that has something to do with the rather wan view of religion to which he is according a valid "magisterium" here: just "questions of moral meaning and value"? What about an afterlife (he does, at least, mention "heaven"), the efficacy of prayer and, lest we forget, God? It is hard to see how the claims of a real, old-fashioned religion -- a Pope Pius religion, with an Immaculate Conception and a Resurrection -- might manage to avoid overlapping with the claims of science, unless we are to agree with Francis Collins that there is a place in the universe or in existence "outside of nature." And Gould, eager as he may have been to avoid conflict, would seem to have been too good a scientist for that.
A Teleology of Disbelief?
posted on 04.19.2006 at 8:30 PM
Jesus told his disciples that the Kingdom of Heaven would arrive fast enough so that "some standing here...shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." Didn't happen.
Madeleine Bunting (to whom this blog has paid an absurd amount of attention) took a shot back, accusing nonbelievers of a failed prediction of their own: "We were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now," she writes.
Okay, that hasn't happened. Don't know who -- Karl Marx, maybe -- said it would. But is it fair to assume that such a prediction-- that believers will eventually wise up -- is inherent in attitudes of disbelief? Is there an assumption that logic, science, whatever, will eventually triumph, that the Kingdom of Reason will come?
America Hotbed of Atheism?
posted on 04.01.2006 at 12:19 PM
Madeleine Bunting is a wobbly writer -- not, on merit, worth the space I've devoted to her. Nonetheless, she has a way, as she lurches about, of stumbling upon some interesting issues. Another point that I'm intrigued by in her recent piece in the Guardian is this claim that America has become the site of a death match between hardline atheists and creationists. Britain, in her view, must avoid "American-style false dichotomies between faith and science." American style!
Americans are well aware that they possess an oversupply of exuberant creationists. But the United States -- not Europe -- as a hotbed of extreme atheism! Gosh.
Could there be something to this -- perhaps the result of an equal and opposite reaction to those creationists and their buddies on the religious right? Or is Bunting, once again, just not looking where she's going.
posted on 03.31.2006 at 1:55 AM
No fooling. We now have a study.The New York Times :
Prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery, a large and long-awaited study has found.
Surprised? How about this:
And patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, the researchers suggested.
Is this not further evidence -- sorry Ms. Bunting, sorry Mr. Archbishop of Canterbury -- that science ain't healthy for faith? Is it also a sign, and this is a bit surprising, that faith ain't healthy? (Thanks to Bret and Lauren.)
Does Darwin Lead to Atheism? -- II
posted on 03.29.2006 at 9:52 PM
Madeleine Bunting is concerned with avoiding "false dichotomies between faith and science." What religious models might satisfy Bunting and "mesh with" (the phrase is from Dan Jones) evolution? Jones mentions the obvious one: God sets natural selection in motion and watches it work -- presumably devoting Himself, thereafter, just to prayer-answering and salvation-dispensing. Various wispy Gods -- God as Nature, God as metaphor, God as consciousness, etc. -- would also fit.
Wouldn't you have to ignore, or view as fiction, large portions of various holy books for more traditional versions of God to "mesh"? In the effort to avoid "dichotomies," don't you lose either a lot of God or a lot of evolution?
Does Darwinism Lead to Atheism?
posted on 03.28.2006 at 5:56 PM
A split seems to be developing among pro-evolution (anti-intelligent design) forces, with the work of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett the major bones of contention. The selection below is from a new piece by Madeleine Bunting, an old friend in this blog, in the Guardian:
'Michael Ruse, a prominent Darwinian philosopher (and an agnostic) based in the US, with a string of books on the subject, is exasperated: "Dawkins and Dennett are really dangerous, both at a moral and a legal level." The nub of Ruse's argument is that Darwinism does not lead ineluctably to atheism, and to claim that it does (as Dawkins does) provides the intelligent-design lobby with a legal loophole: "If Darwinism equals atheism then it can't be taught in US schools because of the constitutional separation of church and state. It gives the creationists a legal case. Dawkins and Dennett are handing these people a major tool."'
In his blog, The Proper Study Of Mankind, from which I learned of this latest Bunting blast, Dan Jones does a fine job of unpacking the Bunting-Rose position. He has a go at the "legal loophole," atheism-as-religion argument. But also takes on the Darwinism=atheism question: Jones concedes that "the specific claims of" science and evolution may not be "utterly incompatible with a religious conception of the universe (you can always tweak your scientific and religious models to mesh with one another)." But he contends that "scientific investigation just doesn't tend towards theism and belief in God."
This tending away from theism (and you-know-Whom) by science, while it is wrestling with creationism, throws Bunting into something of a panic:
'Across the US, a crude and erroneous conflict is being created between science as atheism and religion. It's important that Britain avoids the trap that America is falling into, not just because it endangers good science, but also because there is a fascinating debate worth having about what scientific method can reveal about faith, and what theologians have to say about science.'
Bunting is right about the scientific method shedding light on faith. That, as she acknowledges, is the point of Dennett's book. But seeing science as irreligious won't interfere with this effort. Exactly what light theologians can shed on science she neglects specify.
Cartoons of the Atheist
posted on 02.11.2006 at 7:47 PM
We can imagine, as some Muslims have asked us to do, the outrage that would greet satiric cartoons featuring Jesus or, were the point sufficiently nasty, Moses.
How about a satiric drawing of an atheist? What would it show? (A man lost in a microscope oblivious to the wonder of all that goes on around him?)
Wait, by the grace of Google, I found one (our artist is Jack Hamm):
I suspect that this image would not be sufficient to rouse the residents of the Left Bank or the Upper West Side to burn flags or embassies. Would it be possible to come up with a cartoon that would seriously offend atheists? Are they above (below?) this sort of thing? Is this because for the atheist "nothing is sacred"?
Doesn't a feeling for the "sacred" increase the inclination to take offense? Would this not be a response to the assertion by Madeleine Bunting, in the Guardian, that, in essence, religion is merely one of many "collective identities" societies can use as an excuse for violence?
Has the Great Statement of Atheism Been Written?
posted on 01.25.2006 at 6:48 PM
"Atheist humanism hasn't generated a compelling popular narrative and ethic of what it is to be human and our place in the cosmos; where religion has retreated, the gap has been filled with consumerism, football, Strictly Come Dancing and a mindless absorption in passing desires."
One answer: Oh, come off it, all you shrill and panicked meaning seekers! Atheism cannot provide, and has no interest in providing, a new tale of good and evil to replace your fading testaments, gospels, holy books or other bedtime stories.
But we might also take her question more seriously. Has the great philosophical statement of atheism -- not as an alternative religion but as a analysis of life beyond religion -- been written?
Many have expressed what is wrong with religion. (See, for example, Russell or Sam Harris or George Carlin.) Has anyone proclaimed, with the requisite wisdom and gravity, what is right -- positive -- about life beyond religion?
Religion Is Like Sex?
posted on 01.24.2006 at 2:45 PM
And what do you make of this surprising analogy from Bunting on Dawkins?
"Dawkins seems to want to magic [Bunting does have a way with verbs] religion away. It's a silly delusion comparable to one of another great atheist humanist thinker, JS Mill. He wanted to magic away another inescapable part of human experience - sex; using not dissimilar arguments to Dawkins's, he pointed out the violence and suffering caused by sexual desire, and dreamt of a day when all human beings would no longer be infantilized by the need for sexual gratification, and an alternative way would be found to reproduce the human species. As true of Mill as it is of Dawkins: dream on."
I feel bad for sad John Stuart, but aren't there rather obvious reasons why his task would be more daunting than that of Dawkins? And isn't it odd for a theist to try to score points by accusing an atheist of being anti-sex? And aren't there differences in the epistemological claims made by sex and those made by religion (which, last I checked, pretended to be something more than the pleasurable satisfaction of an itch)?
An Indifferent Cosmos
posted on 01.23.2006 at 6:38 PM
More from Madeleine Bunting's assault on Richard Dawkins:
"Science has to concede that despite its huge advances it still cannot answer questions about the nature of the universe - such as whether we are freak chances of evolution in an indifferent cosmos."
Is this really such a tough question?
On Bunting On Dawkins On Atheism
posted on 01.17.2006 at 6:45 PM
Richard Dawkins, who seems to be taking on the Bertrand Russell role of primary intellectual champion of atheism, has a two-part series attacking religion on Channel Four in the UK. Haven't seen it. (Will a US network have the guts to pick it up?) But I was sent Madeleine Bunting's exuberant critique of the series in the Guardian.
Bunting's piece is smart, tough and even, in places, wise: Yes, societies can find other excuses for killing each other besides religious difference. No, trying to prevent parents from indoctrinating their kids with religion doesn't sound like such a hot idea. (Are we also to prevent them from indoctrinating their children with free-market ideology or compassion for the poor?)
However, Bunting -- like many in the group Thomas Huxley once dismissed as "reconcilers" between religion and science -- seems unable to grasp the natural antagonism between faith and reason. "Faith, according to the New Testament, "is assurance of things hoped for." Reason, particularly its offspring science, is the alternative -- the antidote -- to such wishful thinking. This doesn't mean there isn't an element of faith at the bottom of reason -- "faith" that the sun will in fact rise tomorrow, for example. And this doesn't mean people of faith can't do science. But it would seem to support Dawkins' characterization of faith as a "process of non-thinking."
Bunting is also smart, tough and possibly wise on a subject that has been much discussed here: the new religious Great Awakening and an alleged and concomitant decline in freethinking. "There's an aggrieved frustration," she writes about nonbelievers, "that they've been short-changed by history; we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now."
Bunting thinks she senses "the unmistakable whiff of panic." You panicked?