Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anti-Religion

More often than not, it is entirely irrational. A case in point : Robert Wright defends himself very effectively against a sloppy review of his book The Evolution of God in the New Republic.

Today it is just as good to do religious homage to science and rationality without actually engaging in them as to call oneself a "Christian" and ... you get the picture. Wright himself is an evangelist of science -- it's just that his lack of fervor (his agnosticism) is not enough for his reviewer (and would-be excommunicater), Jerry Coyne.

Science does not need hot-headed, partisan defenders who think they are doing it a favor by engaging in theological debates when they've never thought seriously about -- and in fact have no interest in -- theology and the philosophy of science. (That's you, Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens). The anti-religious tirades of these proselytizers are premised on an idea (among others) that can be wielded just as much to the detriment of science as faith: the claim that one is in conflict with the other. In fact, they are not in conflict, and do not even touch. Properly conceived, not a single inferential thread runs between them. Some light reading should clear it up: http://www.hkbu.edu.hk/~ppp/cpr/toc.html.

This is not to say that it might not seem that way -- a claim that seems to pop up almost verbatim everywhere as if it is the one bit of their faith vs. reason Cliff Notes that all of them have read, as in Coyne's "Over its history, science has delivered two crippling blows to humanity's self-image." You know, Galileo and Darwin. Coyne seems to relish the blow as if he himself had delivered it. But seems is not enough. Self-image is not enough. How it made the 9/12 protesters of the day feel is not enough. The harder philosophical problems -- involving conflicts between God and evil, (morality-grounding) free will and mechanistic determinism -- arrived before Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin.

(I say this as someone who is agnostic, science-loving, decidedly un-post-modern, and has little tolerance for organized religion).

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