Religion vs Science: The Big Picture

In The Independent, a tabloid-sized UK daily, we found an excellent article: Religion vs science: can the divide between God and rationality be reconciled? It’s is rather long, but it’s very good, and we recommend that you read the whole thing.

The article begins with the recent uproar in the Royal Society about Rev Professor Michael Reiss, who had to resign his position as the Society’s director of education. It goes back to the Galileo affair, and forward to the 9/11 Islamic terror attacks, Answers in Genesis, and Richard Dawkins. Rather sweeping, but quite good and worth your time. Here (with bold added for emphasis) are a few excerpts:

The idea that science and religion are incompatible is a fairly recent import into contemporary culture. It has been given huge credence by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The pronounced motivation of Islamic fundamentalists in 2001 hammered home that some people are prepared to inflict outrageous acts of inhumanity in the name of religion.

Now some historical background:

But we are leaping ahead here. The relationship between science and religion has had a long and chequered history since the settled days of the medieval consensus, which saw faith and the natural sciences as part of a cosmic whole. Galileo put paid to that with his insistence that the earth revolved around the sun. The Catholic Church, which saw man and his planet at the centre of the universe – and which already felt its authority threatened by the rise of Protestantism – locked horns with him. The clash became a metaphor for the irreconcilability of scientific materialism and biblical literalism.

Then a paragraph on Isaac Newton, followed by:

Next came Darwin. At first many saw his theory of evolution as a threat to religion but mainstream Christianity soon accepted evolution as the answer to the “how” of creation, leaving the “why” questions of meaning and morality to faith. Science and religion exercised authority over two discrete compartments of life between which there could be no link.

You didn’t know there was a period of peaceful coexistence, did you? The article continues:

But the rise of Christian fundamentalism in America in the past few decades – the word fundamentalist in its religious sense was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in only 1989 – was mirrored in a milder way in Britain too. Liberal Christianity, so long in the ascendant in the Church of England, began to lose ground to evangelicalism. … The idea that the miracles of the New Testament may have been metaphors rather than literal truths suddenly went out of fashion in Christian circles.

Which brings us to the present:

The experience of being a secularist in the US is clearly a radicalising one. “I don’t know if it is too late to stop the slide in Britain but I think it is in the US where [the religious right] have now almost complete control over politics, the judiciary, education, business, journalism and television,” [Sir Harold] Kroto, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996, has said, adding darkly: “The Royal Society does not appreciate the true nature of the forces arrayed against it.”

We’ve already excerpted more than enough, but this is good too:

All of this mystifies the vast majority of the nation’s Christians who have been taught since the time of St Augustine, who died AD430, that where there appears to be a conflict between demonstrated knowledge and a literal reading of the bible then the scriptures should be interpreted metaphorically. They see no conflict between faith and reason because, as Pope John Paul II put it: “God created man as rational and free, thereby placing himself under man’s judgement.” Just last month the present Pope reiterated the same line, warning of the dangers of fundamentalist readings of the Bible.

As we said, the article is a good one. Click over to The Independent and read it from start to finish.

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