Saturday, 23 April 2011

View from the Pulpit - Martin Rees

From here:

Campaigning against religion can be socially counterproductive. If teachers take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable, many young people raised in a faith-based culture will stick with their religion and be lost to science. Moreover, we need all the allies we can muster against fundamentalism - a palpable, perhaps growing concern.
Mainstream religions - such as the Anglican Church - should be welcomed as being on our side in any such confrontation. (Indeed, one reason I would like to see them stronger is that the archbishops who lead the Church of England, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu, two remarkable but utterly different personalities, both elevate the tone of our public life.)
. . .
It is astonishing that human brains, which evolved to cope with the everyday world, have been able to grasp the counterintuitive mysteries of the cosmos and the quantum. But there seems no reason why they should be matched to every intellectual quest - we could easily be as unaware of crucial aspects of reality as a monkey is of the theory of relativity.
This seems to have been Charles Darwin's attitude to religion, at least at some stage in his life. In a letter to the Swiss-American biologist Louis Agassiz, he said: "The whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. Let each man hope and believe as he can."
This is a glaringly different stance from that adopted by some of Darwinism's high-profile proponents today. We should all oppose - as Darwin did - views manifestly in conflict with the evidence, such as creationism. (Last year's Templeton winner, Francisco Ayala, has been in the forefront of that campaign in the US.) But we shouldn't set up this debate as "religion v science"; instead, we should strive for peaceful coexistence with at least the less dogmatic strands of mainstream religions, which number many excellent scientists among their adherents.
This, at least, is my view - a pallid and boring one, both for those who wish to promote constructive engagement between science and religion, and for those who prefer antagonistic debate. I am, I suppose, an "accommodationist" - a disparaging epithet used by anti-religion campaigners to describe those who don't share their fervour. Richard Dawkins described me as a "compliant quisling". 

14 comments:

  1. What a disappointment!

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  2. "Peaceful coexistence", but not "constructive engagement" or "antagonistic debate".

    What's left?

    Also, the quote by Darwin comes from a letter to Asa Gray, not Agassiz.

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  3. This seems to be Martin's priority at the moment:

    "Moreover, we need all the allies we can muster against fundamentalism - a palpable, perhaps growing concern."

    This is the BCSE position too, as several recent developments, that should be in the public domain soon, will demonstrate.

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  4. But what *is* the position, exactly, other than "let's attack atheists"?

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  5. Dan,

    Firstly, where do you get that idea from? What does Rees say that means that anyone should attack atheists?

    Secondly, initiatives that involve people on both sides of the faith question have more impact politically and are more likely to be listened to by politicians and are also more likely to have an impact on some of those wavering on the edge of fundamentalism. I am not saying this is right or wrong, I am just pointing out the reality of the situation. Movements with broader support get more attention from vote hungry politicians.

    The BCSE is a single issue political organisation trying to keep creationism from being presented as science in UK schools.

    We benefit from members and supporters of many different faiths and also atheists who are all happy to work with that one goal in mind.

    Arguing about the existence or otherwise of a deity or deities unnamed might be great fun but doesn't get anything done regarding our one aim.

    The BCSE takes no position on this question and is happy to work alongside anyone who shares our single aim.

    Regards,

    Psi

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  6. Religious belief or the lack of it should not be an issue for us in the battle (it is a battle) to protect science from creationism. It is sad that it even needs to be said that it should not be an issue.

    Any atheist who refused to collaborate with a theist would have to do without Stephen Jay Gould at Arkansas or Ken Miller at Dover. Any theist who refuse to collaborate with an atheist would have to do without Brent Dalrymple at Arkansas, and others too obvious to need mention. Anyone of whatever persuasion who rejects agnostics would have to make do without TH Huxley, who coined the term to describe his position. To say nothing of the mature Charles Darwin who so described himself in his private autobiography (penguin Classic edition, page 54), as well as in his letter to Asa Gray.

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  7. I'm just asking what your position is.

    "What does Rees say that means that anyone should attack atheists?"

    Well, how about this:

    "Campaigning against religion can be socially counterproductive."

    There is no argument from me, or indeed from Coyne or Dawkins, that religious and nonreligious people should work together against creationism. Dawkins has done so himself.

    Nor is there any argument that organisations like the BCSE should avoid theological debate.

    But you're not avoiding theological debate. You're promoting and participating in it. You've posted Martin Rees' article and you've posted this:

    http://bcseweb.blogspot.com/2011/04/view-from-pulpit-pope.html

    This makes it look like you *do* take a position on theology. And that's what annoys some atheists.

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  8. Rees' view is anything but neutral. He makes it clear that he believes there is room for religious views about reality. He may think that they are equivalent to 'a dog speculating about the mind of Newton', but he doesn't, strangely, say that such speculation is not just silly, but dangerous beause so many take such speculation seriously. In our world there are plenty of 'dogs' making definite statements on matters they can have no knowledge of, and insisting that their political views should be taken notice of as a consequence. One such 'speculating dog' was the Pope, invited as an honoured guest to the UK last year, which resulting in him attacking atheism and secularism.

    The way to be neutral is to not express any view about the compatibility of religion and science, not to post accommodationist nonsense like this. It is offer, and encourage, assistance to those fighting creationist views with no associated "blessing" for the beliefs of your allies.

    Having there comments by the Pope and by Rees here is anything but neutral. It IS making acceptance of religious belief an issue.

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  9. Hi Steve,

    You are perfectly entitled to view this as nonsense.

    This type of post is a "view from the pulpit" - as detailed in the regular features tab as:

    "View From the Pulpit

    An opinion piece. Sometimes a commentary on news items. Sometimes a straightforward contradiction of creationist claims that evolutionary theory is a worldwide atheist conspiracy. Views from theists of many kinds, deists, atheists and agnostics."

    We basically quote anything that criticises creationists.

    e .g. the previous two posts were from Neil de Grasse Tyson and Stephen Law.

    We do this because we are religiously neutral and will work with anyone who will help us fight creationism, which is our only aim.

    This information is also particularly effective against some creationists and waverers who distrust science, evidence and logic, but who can be made to think when exposed to the fact that Christians don't agree with creationism.

    If you won't do that because we work with people who don't agree with your religious views then so be it.

    Regards,

    Psi

    It would seem that if Darwin was alive today you would perhaps refuse to work with him too.

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  10. "It would seem that if Darwin was alive today you would perhaps refuse to work with him too."

    You are confusing the idea of working with someone with the separate issue of promoting certain ideas.

    "We basically quote anything that criticises creationists."

    That's not being neutral, is it?

    "This type of post is a "view from the pulpit" - as detailed in the regular features tab as:"

    But it isn't described as that on this page. Perhaps that is really all that is needed?

    I clicked on the "Blog" link, and saw posts here presented as if they were views supported by the BCSE. If that is the case, then you are not neutral about religion.

    For example, surely you can see how quoting the Pope in this kind of un-contexted way is going to put off large numbers of people?

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  11. Hi Steve,

    No I'm not.

    Yes that is precisely what being neutral means - not favouring one side over any other. Just publishing atheist comment and opinion would not be neutral.

    The links are in the column on the left near the top. I suggest you read the "about this blog" and the "regular features" ones.

    "Being neutral" is not the same thing as "not mentioning".

    regards,

    Psi

    PS the hint was in the title "View from the Pulpit"

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  12. "Yes that is precisely what being neutral means - not favouring one side over any other. Just publishing atheist comment and opinion would not be neutral."

    Then don't publish opinion.

    '"Being neutral" is not the same thing as "not mentioning".'

    Yes, it is, if you are going to present a range of views within a context that suggests you approve of what is being said.

    'PS the hint was in the title "View from the Pulpit"'

    That makes things even more puzzling. Rees is an atheist, not a preacher!

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  13. Did you read my earlier reply?

    This type of post is a "view from the pulpit" - as detailed in the regular features tab as:

    "View From the Pulpit

    An opinion piece. Sometimes a commentary on news items. Sometimes a straightforward contradiction of creationist claims that evolutionary theory is a worldwide atheist conspiracy. Views from theists of many kinds, deists, atheists and agnostics."

    If you don't like that kind of approach then fine but don';t make out that it is something we clearly and simply say it isn't.

    We gather together and report opinions from people of all viewpoints on creationism - it really isn't hard to get - you really need to be putting in some serious effort to be offended by this Steve.

    I'm not going to allow any more repeats of the same point over and over - have one more free posting but after that one please make a different point - I'm not going to give you a different answer just because you keep claiming that censorship of a certain viewpoint is being neutral.

    "Then don't publish opinion. "

    Your demand, that we either only publish atheist opinions or we don't publish anyone's opinion on the subject of creationism at all, is frankly ridiculous on the face of it.

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