Monday, August 10, 2009
Oh, what the hell, it's the silly season and I seem to have started it again. If the only aspect of God in which you are interested is his scientifically verifiable existence or non-existence then you are a fool, a prat, an illiterate, a bore, a half-wit, a freak, an ill-educated clown, an insensitive lummox and a complete child. This, essentially, is my problem with these militant atheists, they are children. All they are saying is, 'You said he was a man with a white beard above the clouds. Well, now we have planes and rockets and he's not there so he doesn't exist. Ya-boo, you stink.' Pre-school stuff, so why are they doing it? I don't know but two reasons suggest themselves - 9/11 and the apparent power of Christian fundamentalism in the US. I am not sure of the reality or otherwise of the latter, but I am sure that whatever power there was has waned considerably. And, as for 9/11, well that may reasonably have inspired questions about this particular version of God, but broadening that to all versions is plainly absurd. Oh and there's a third reason - it sells books, but I'm trying to give the atheists more credit for high-mindedness than, perhaps, they deserve.
Anyway, I'm an Angry Agnostic - I don't believe in God, I don't not believe in him, but I'm very interested in him. How could I not be? I have a mind and I've read a lot of stuff. I am also hyper-aware - as are most intelligent scientists - of the excessive claims made for science.
I am not a cognitive relativist like those goons Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray etc.(I rate Derrida and Lyotard). I accept the explanatory power of science and in its unique place in human knowledge as a genuinely accumulative form of wisdom. Indeed, it wouldn't be remotely interesting to me - well, about as interesting as scientology - if it were not so powerful and unique. But it's important to remember that, at any given moment, most of what scientists say is wrong. This has to be the case. Natural selection produces an eye by selecting certain mutations from billions of others which were either harmful or useless. That's also how scientific progress works, though the numbers are smaller. One reason we're not aware of this is the lamentable lack of reporting of negative results - a lack that results in research students barking up trees that have already been found to be wrong. The institution of science is, if anything, slightly more irrational than most other institutions.
This is not to say that I expect science, one day, to find God, though, having just read Paul Davies's excellent The Goldilocks Enigma to catch up on physics and cosmology, I can safely say it's not out of the question. But it is to say that extrapolating the state of science at any one moment into non-scientific realms - like theology - is dangerous and absurd. This, in fact, was the true message of the Intellectual Impostures scam. A couple of scientists made fools of those French thinkers who randomly imported science into their impenetrable meditations. Quite right. But we should be aware that in religion and other areas, some scientists are now doing the same thing in reverse, busily exporting science into places where it does not belong and, perhaps, can never belong. That way lies a very stupid world indeed.
If you are really interested in any of this - and you should be - you should read the argument between the theologian Richard Swinburne and Richard Dawkins. Properly done, this will keep you going for the rest of August. You may take the view that it's not worth it because Swinburne is a theologian and, therefore, a silly fantastist. If you do take this view, then you are a a fool, a prat, an illiterate and a bore etc. and you are banned from reading this blog.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:32 am