Thursday, July 5, 2007

Science and Islam, and Dawkins

My colleague Todd Pitock - who I met at the ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) meeting in New York earlier this year - wrote an interesting piece in the latest Discover Magazine, "Science and Islam in Conflict" - but check out the print mag because it has great photos and as Todd says, the online version lacks the panache of the magazine layout.

The latest Scientific American magazine also has an interesting dialogue between Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss about conflict between science and religion, "Should Science Speak to Faith?" Frankly I get very irritated when magazines continue to give Dawkins so much space to fill the pages of their magazine, radio play, because he is utterly fringe on his beliefs on the incompatibility between science and faith.

As a scientist, Dawkins is fantastic and I love his book The Selfish Gene and his ideas on memes (cultural ideas that transmit from generation to generation in a sort of non-genetic natural selection). However, his belief (opinion, non-scientific in any way) that faith is a delusion and that science and faith are incompatible is held by only a very small minority of people, including other atheists and agnostics. Would Scientific American give as much space to Ken Ham or another young earth creationist? I think not! And they shouldn't! Dawkins gets space because he sells magazines, is charismatic and opinionated, and is well-known - he's like the Ann Coulter of anti-religion! That is not a good enough reason. Giving him space when an article is about his own scientific concepts, or about his books perhaps is ok (his latest, The God Delusion, is not new enough to merit a whole article on him at this stage).

Frankly although the dialogue is interesting, both of these people are very cynical and condemning of religion in their own way. By continuing to give them press, it simply continues to spread the idea that scientists are always anti-God or anti-religion. Krauss also makes the mistake of saying "If one believes that homosexuality is an abomination because it says so in the Bible, one has to accept the other things that are said in the Bible, including the allowance to kill your children if they are disobedient or validation of the right to sleep with your father if you need to have a child and there are no other men around, and so forth" because he's claiming you can't cherry-pick your beliefs from the Bible. But he clearly hasn't read - or understood - the whole Bible or theology behind Christianity - because first of all he's taking things literally (ironically, the same thing he is asking fundamentalists not to do. Many of the Old Testament stories and even commandments have deeper and literary meanings hidden within the most obvious initial read of it) and second of all, according to Christian theology, Jesus came to bring a new covenant that ends legalism (following rules for the sake of it, and thinking one is better than others at the same time such people often treat people very poorly - this is according to the Bible not me, though I wholeheartedly agree) - and Jesus came to herald a deeper, more spirit- and grace-based faith. Somehow many Christians have not grasped or embraced what Jesus was all about. And clearly many non-religious people don't get it either.


Anonymous said...

You're wrong. Dawkin's beliefs aren't "fringe beliefs". He believes in exactly the same way as virtually 100% of all intelligent atheists do. I use the word "intelligent" to distinguish between atheists who actually understand what atheism entails and those who claim they are atheist simply because they don't fall into the category of any other religion. Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, touches upon this as well I do believe.


Dawkins belief that evolution and science themselves indicate that there is no God are fringe. The belief that there isn't a God, or that the phyiscal world is all there is is shared by a lot of scientists, and obviously atheists. Most of Dawkins stuff is what "mainstream" atheists accept but though atheism is increasing it's still a minority. The fronge part I was specifically referring to his claim that evolution indicates "no God" which is absolute hogwsh since science can not BY DEFINITION make any claims one way or another about anything not in the physical world. Faith and God are out of that realm.

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