There ain’t no doubt that the elephant in the room – religion and its claim of realism – is the greatest intellectual battle of today, and right now everybody starts to talk abut it. A number of texts have recently flagged this topic and looking at the debate I feel that it is a great and challenging battle, really. Jerry Coyne over at Why Evolution is True is really stirring up his mistrust of accomodationists, now wittily called faitheists (although I think templetons would have been more suiting). He argues that atheists that try to bridge the gap of science and religion by giving license to religious people to work in science are wrong: based on modern science Jesus cannot have risen from the dead; you cannot be a virgin and give birth to a baby boy and miracles do not exist. I agree with Coyne on the science stuff, but his views are not unpolitical: if we are ever to bridge gaps between the majority of the world’s population and us atheists, how is this to happen if our message to all spiritual people is: anything you think you are claiming about your longings and spiritual feelings must first be acknowledged by science, and by the way, if you ever thinkin’ about going into science – don’t!
Sorry Coyne, I just do not see how you think we can survive in the long run without accommodating religious individuals. It’s either that or slowly turning them into “the other”.
But the real row has these days been over the Obama appointment of Francis Collins’s as head of the National Institutes of Health in the US. Coyne, P Z Myers, Steve Pinker and others have rightfully ushered in a bag of critique over this choice. Collins is an esteemed member of the science elite, but also a theist, believing that evolution is both natural and guided by the Good Lord. He has until a few days ago publicly sanctioned this view through his BioLogos theory and his foundation that supports it. Now, I am fully backing criticism of Collins and some of his factual statements, but as for his private view of the meaning of life, I will not stand in front of him trying to reduce his religions experience to neurons and social circumstances. So this is a tricky one.
As a pragmatist I see plenty of opportunities here: 1. The debate of science and religion can only be deepened and developed from here – great! 2. Having a religious super-expert in genetics and science as a poster boy for religious America is great opportunity, not for the science loving atheists, but for everyone else!
The SF Chronicle has published nice bio of Francis Collins and I must say that he has my uttermost respect; lets see what he can do.
More faitheists have published in Dagens Nyheter recently, mostly as a critique against the Humanist movement in Sweden (In America they call themselves Brights). Writer Inger Edelfeldt talks about the danger of eradicating “God” and “religion” from our culture since it contains so much that is not all that bad, and in today’s paper critic Leif Zern agrees.
Over at the London ICA Terry Eagelton destroys arguments from Dawkins about why to do away with religion during a lecture a few weeks ago:
Dawkins seems to think that science has done away with faith. But, as Eagleton points out, this is like arguing that ‘thanks to the electric toaster we can now dispense with Chekhov’. Science and Religion were never meant to answer the same questions, so the one can never resolve the arguments of the other. Dawkins’ mistake, Eagleton says, is to ‘assume that all faith is blind faith.’ In fact ‘true’ faith incorporates reason: ‘faith is not exclusive of reason, but neither is it reducible to it’. (as retold by blogger Tom at Spoonfed)
The Economist this week reports of strange atheist camps for kids. Not strange because they learn valuable lessons of doubt, science and critical thinking but because the camp itself utilizes the methods of a Jesus camp practiced by some of the worst fundamentalists caught on tape.
The debate over why we are here continues. By the way, chck out Francis Collins and others the Templeton science fesival last year:
What it Means to be Human (Part 4/5) from World Science Festival on Vimeo.