Martin Rees touts friendship between science and faith. Of course.

April 23, 2011 • 11:42 am

Usually you have to sing before you get your supper.  But when you win a Templeton Prize, the order is reversed.  First you go to the trough, and only then must you tweet. After Francisco Ayala won the prize last year, he did a bunch of interviews and pieces touting the compatibility of science and faith (one example is here).  Now cosmologist Martin Rees, who nabbed the Prize a few weeks back, is up to the same thing.

You can hear the singing in today’s New Statesman, where, in a piece called “Science and religion don’t have to be enemies,” Rees promotes an eternal comity between science and religion.  And although he says he is a “sceptic,” and “has no religious belief”, he espouses the usual line that we should STFU about religion because that kind of criticism keeps people away from science:

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.

Too bad Rees is alienating his atheist allies!

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.)

I doubt that Eric MacDonald would agree with that last sentence! And, by the way, do Catholicism and Islam also count as “mainstream religions”?

Rees then rabbits on about how much he admires Christianity’s “architectural legacy—the great cathedrals.” Rees also admires “the music and liturgy of the Church in which [he] was brought up”.  The rest of the piece is pallid pap—Rees is nothing if not an astute politician, and knows that the dispensation of warm pablum puts him in better stead than taking intellectual risks.  And you know what?  I would prefer to live in a world that didn’t have those cathedrals and music if it meant that the millions of people throughout history who were tormented and murdered by the faithful had been spared their suffering.  How many lives, after all, is Notre Dame worth?

122 thoughts on “Martin Rees touts friendship between science and faith. Of course.

  1. I suppose that if “religions” had no comments regarding the origin of life, the cosmos, various human behaviours…but rather stuck to the worship of whatever…co-existence might be possible…as scientific discoveries continue to increase understanding of nature, it becomes increasingly untenable. The various religions are constantly having to “accomodate” the latest discovery…

    1. I just spent several hours photographing Notre Dame.

      If religion stuck to music and architecture, then there would be no conflict. But, alas….

  2. Even putting aside the question of costs, does anyone really believe that without organized religion, no one would make beautiful things?–or even that fewer beautiful things would be made?–or that made things in general would be less beautiful? Of all the apologies that have been invented for religion, this is perhaps the weakest.

    1. I agree. After all, Albrecht Dürer was drawing himself and rabbits when other people were painting Jebus. It’s an open question whether talented painters, musicians, and architects would have still produced masterpieces without the “inspiration” of religion. My guess is that talents would generally have found other outlets, but perhaps not all of them.

      1. My guess is that talents would generally have found other outlets, but perhaps not all of them.

        Which, of course, is not actually relevant to your point, I would add.

        I could just as easily say that artwork based on sex could have found other outlets, but some might have dropped by the wayside.


        1. What is pop music, if not artwork based on sex?

          Sure, they use the euphemism “love”, but we all know what they’re talking about.

      2. Conceivably, some people have on some occasions been inspired by religious themes, and produced wonderful work that otherwise they would not have produced. But this must be a rare event, because generally speaking, religion denigrates and discourages imagination, curiosity, creativity, and originality. So I would predict that for every time religion inspired someone, there have been several times when it stultified someone.

        1. Setting aside the question as to whether religious belief has played a major role in inspiring music, literature, architecture, etc., all of that has NOTHING to do with whether its claims are true OR whether they are compatible with science. When someone likes Rees starts to drone on about the compatibility of religion and science, and then brings up cathedrals, you immediately KNOW he is bereft of any meaningful argument, and is simply straining at gnats and grasping at straws.

          1. Re the Cathedrals: I’ve mentioned this at Eric’s place some time ago; when my wife and I visited the Escorial outside Madrid, built by Philip V, I said as we wandered one of the galleries filled with great art: ‘Can you smell it?’ She wondered what I was talking about. ‘The blood! The blood of hundreds of thousands of Meso-American Indians slaughtered for the greater glory of God – and for the gold, of course. That’s the mortar that built this place.’ That’s what these places cost.

        2. The history of church music has been a sawtooth curve of increasingly florid (counterpoint, fugue, polyphony) composition, then some papal edict suppressing all in favour of austere homophonic chant. (I oversimplify, but it happened two or three times.) One can only guess what would have happened if the church hadn’t stuck its oar in.

          On the other hand, no great work has been made in Plasticine™. Art needs restrictions. I guess they would have come from somewhere else. You can see what happens when the imagination is unleashed at Sagreda Famiglia in Barcelona – only gravity limited Gaudi. Last year the Pope consecrated it as a cathedral. One has to wonder why. Any connnection it has with Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular is hard to find.

      3. I guess no one reads The Agony and the Ecstasy these days. Michelangelo was in constant battle with the church. The religious kept forcing him to take commissions he didn’t want and forbidding him to do what he really wanted to do. The opportunity costs of his famous religious works is unknowable, but clearly he would have produced many magnificent non-religious works if he had been free to do so. He was not inspired by religion. He was inspired by his own art, stone, and the unadorned human form.

      4. Why would one think this would be an open-to-debate question?

        Michaelangelo did a lot of work besides his work on the Sistine Chapel. His clients included the Medici’s, the King of France, etc. His most famous sculpture, the Statute of David was for the Florentine Guild of Wool.

        So, yes, the Catholic church did commission works. But they certainly weren’t the only ones.

    2. I dunno – I wonder if the use of religion-based coercion (promises of heaven/threats of hell) allowed more work to be extracted from the artists, craftspersons, and even the labourers. I can imagine someone thinking that they are tired and would prefer to knock off for the day and maybe spend some time with the spouse and kids, but then reconsiders based on the eternal significance of what they are doing (and remembers Luke 14:26 where Jesus said “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple”).

    3. And who says one has to actually believe in a religion in order to be inspired by it?

      Orpheus’s praises are still being sung today, even though it’s been many, many centuries since anybody worshipped at his altar.

      Wagner was most definitely not a Teutonic pagan at any point in his life, including the substantive portion of it he devoted to creating the Ring cycle.

      The greatest Mass of the modern era was written by Bernstein, a non-religious Jew.

      …and that’s just a tiny sampling from one discipline….



      1. How well-known is Bernstein’s Mass? I’m curious because I think it’s the greatest thing he ever did, but nobody I know has heard of it.

        Alan Titus FTW! I almost saw him doing Wotan in Cologne, but I was a few weeks late (and the replacement was … breathy)

    4. Art can be an expensive business, which is why the Church was so important a patron. But according to David Lewis-Williams the good people of Chartres were none too pleased when an ambitious cleric decided to build a cathedral – they knew whose arms would be twisted and, as I recall, they rioted. But this connexion of the arts and religion is tricky – even Mary Warnock ends her latest (good) book talking about the attractiveness and importance of Christian art – principally because of the implicit claim that religious art is ‘true’ and therefore profound whereas other art is merely fictional and superficial (there has in fact always been a tension between the demands of religion and those of art in the Abrahamic religions). Obviously Bach’s belief played a part in the making of the passions and masses that he wrote, but surely it is his imaginative telling of the story of the St Matthew Passion, and not his belief, that makes the work a great one, just as the free-thinker Verdi’s imaginative though unbelieving entry into Christian eschatology makes his Requiem an extraordinarily great piece (someone has mentioned Faure elsewhere). Bach thought (there is note by him in his bible) that the spirit of God was present every time devotional music was played, but there is no reason why purely devotional music needs to be good: just go through a hymn-book or listen to the vapid contemporary songs set to a beat about Jesus loving me and how I was saved. ‘Lear’, which Shakespeare set in a pre-Christian England, and ‘Hamlet’, which though set in the Christian era is barely Christian at all, are two of the greatest summits of Western literature, as are the plays of Greek tragedians like Sophocles and Aeschylus, and they are every bit as profound as any of the greatest Christian art. We need to dismiss the implicit claims to truth of Christian art and treat it as we would any art. I could go on, but this will do for now.

      1. Incidentally, there is a wonderful and wonderfully liberating book that I have now almost finished by the zoologist, draughtsman and sculptor R. Dale Guthrie entitled ‘The Nature of Paleolithic Art'(University of Chicago Press), which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the roots of the arts and their place in human life. Here is somebody who stands quite outside the ‘Two Cultures’ paradigm in which not only many people on the ‘arts’ side are still enmeshed, but many people on the science side, too(Pinker for one). It is a very intelligent and splendidly ‘consilient’ book (to use E.O. Wilson’s term), and links science and the arts, showing respect for both and illuminating what it is to be human.

        1. Another addition: one thing that – to me at least – comes across from Rees’s genuflections to Christian art and also Mary Warnock’s attitude (which I certainly don’t despise) is that the essence of European culture is Christian; Christianity has ‘made us’ and on that account it and its artefacts are worthy of respect. It’s an attitude that comes out, too, in Scott Atran’s latest provocative but unsatisfying book, where he quotes the philosopher John Gray in his support. But what strikes me about European culture is that it is the heir to two traditions: the Christian and the Classical, which are in conflict; Europe has never been monolithically Christian, despite Christian attempts to make it so. This division became particularly clear in the Renaissance (and has obviously grown since with the rise of critical, as opposed to apologetic, philosophy and science). The tension and conflict between the two traditions can be felt most strongly in Milton’s poetry, which I love. Milton was steeped in Classical literature and thought, and he loved it, and a great many of his most beautiful lines and passages celebrate the Classical sensibility, but because of his Christian beliefs he has again and again to reject, with an impassioned severity, what clearly most deeply moved him. He had to insist on the truth of Christian as opposed to other art. In a way this is the deepest drama of his poems. What I think is difficult for many people to do is to get a perspective on Christian art that allows them to be moved by it without accepting its claims to be true or at least to possess huge cultural importance (and I think this is true to a degree with all religious art), that allows them to treat it as they would any good or great art, and so one tends to find a too-ready acceptance on one side and a too-ready rejection on the other. Something I think is immensely important about the work of anthropologists and scholars of religion who have been influenced by advances in the cognitive sciences, like Pascal Boyer and David Lewis-Williams, and a zoologist and artist like R. Dale Guthrie, is that they are creating a perspective whereby Christianity and its arts can be seen equably, on the same level as other religions and arts. That is also why Grayling’s The Good Book is important, though I must confess to not awfully liking its format. Sorry for the length of this!

      2. On a minor point, I’d have to disagree that “Hamlet” is “hardly Christian at all”. In his most famous speech, Hamlet laments:
        “Or that the Almighty had not fixed/ The canon ‘gainst self-slaughter”
        IOW, if Hamlet weren’t a Christian believer, he’d have topped himself in Act 1! Later, he fails to kill Claudius when the latter is praying, believing that this would send him to heaven.

        1. I do not say that there are not Christian elements in the play, I am simply saying that ‘Hamlet’ is not a Christian play in the sense of being concerned with trying to present a properly Christian out look on life.

    5. It does seem to be difficult for believers to understand, that all the emotions/suffering/joy in music by Gabrieli, Bach, Vivaldi,Händel etc., are common human feelings. Not religious feelings, just plain human expression.
      Händels court music is as stunning and jubilant as his oratorios, Bachs concertoes as intense as his Passions and Mozarts operas and concertoes surpasses his Requiem. The church has payed all these composers for their music – the church should not be so vain as to think the music would not have been written, or had been less brilliant, had someone else paid for it.

      1. whoa1 typos AND wrong grammar. More coffee to me – and to the rest of you: hope you got my drift anyway.

    6. We must also ask whether if anyone really believes that without organized religion, no one would murder?–or even that less violence would be propagated?–or that people in general would be more loving?

      1. Not that no-one would murder. But that “less violence would be propagated” is at least plausible, since much violence is religiously motivated, and the least religious societies are among the least violent.

  3. Mr. (Or would it be Dr?) Rees’ acceptance of mainstream religions as ‘good’ is one of the reasons gnus should keep speaking up. It’s obvious that in the minds of most people there is some connection between visibility/numbers and legitimacy. If we want to be seen as a legitimate party all we have to do is continue increasing our visibility and numbers.

    Which is what we’ve been doing all along. Keep up the work!

  4. Ugh. It is truly disgusting to see how thoroughly money and political prestige corrupts even the brightest minds of an era.

  5. This I think is the money quote:

    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 is why Rees got the Templeton, right here. “Atheists, shut up.” He’s arguing that atheists need to stop publicaly placing God, revelation, and supernatural beliefs under the microscope of rational analysis and scientific scrutiny, and instead just appreciate the fact that not all religion is as bad as it can be. Focus on the positive, not the negative.

    In other words, he’s calling for faith to be left alone. When religion does conflict with science we need to stop pointing out that there is any problem with religion’s unique method — using faith and dishonest tricks of faith to form unjustified conclusions. That’s not the underlying problem, because there is no underlying problem. Take each instance in isolation, and you’ll discover that the problem is someone or some group going too far with this method and saying something just a bit too testable. Otherwise, believing nonsense for bad reasons is just fine and dandy in itself — as long as it’s called “religion.”

    The religious love this live-and-let-live stance on the part of atheists. It’s so fair. As long as there’s a superficial harmony and the topic is avoided, atheists can secretly believe that theists are deluding themselves in a harmless and insignificant way, and theists can secretly think that atheists are closing their minds and hearts against the source of all Truth, Love, and Meaning. We can get along!

    Because religion can police itself against excesses of too much faith!

    1. This is why Rees got the Templeton, right here. “Atheists, shut up.”

      what’s more, he, along with all the other accomodationists make this same mistake repeatedly:

      But we shouldn’t set up this debate as “religion v science”

      WE (scientists), didn’t set up the “debate” this way! The religious did that. Hell, WE didn’t even “set up the debate” to begin with!

    2. we shouldn’t set up this debate as “religion v science”; instead, we should strive for peaceful coexistence

      Perhaps someday scientists will stop purging those who go to church from their ranks, from forcing science education into worship services, and from demanding that the government ban religious proceedings which are incompatible with the scientific consensus! But how can that happen when most politicians openly and frequently profess their commitment to science while scorning those of faith?

      1. But how can that happen when most politicians openly and frequently profess their commitment to science while scorning those of faith?

        …and in other news here on planet Krypton…

  6. *Teachers* should not be advocating either for or against gods in their classrooms. Their opinions on whether religion and science are compatible are quite irrelevant, and this argument is quite the strawman.

    Never heard of a proselytizing atheist science teacher, either.

    1. Actually, the fiction of Non-Overlapping Magisteria should be quite useful in the classroom. “Creationism? That’s religion. A court has ruled on it. I teach only science here.”

      Except that it would also be useful to teach against Creationism/”ID” as a good example of what science is not. (I guess they can if they avoid all mention of the Creator/Designer.)

  7. Rees writes:

    “We should all oppose – as Darwin did – views manifestly in conflict with the evidence”

    Well, Rees’s beloved CofE espouses extreme views that are manifestly in conflict with the evidence. Unless you think there is no evidence that the dead do not come back to life.

    1. I think that needs to be:

      “Unless you think there is evidence the dead do not come back to life.”

      Which, of course, there is. The rapid loss of cellular functions and integrity that follows when oxygenated blood ceases to circulate through the brain is clear, positive evidence that death is irreversible.

  8. Ugh. Religion is the enemy of rational thought. Science is the epitome of rational thought.

    How someone in science could actually believe that science and religion can be compatible is beyond me. Unless they’ve gone nuts, become senile or have sold out…

    1. Though I am not a scientist myself (I am an…engineer), some years ago, I was a Christian defender of science to religious people, and defender of religion to atheists and scientists, both on the internet and IRL. I considered myself to be a rationalist and skeptic, and I considered (at the time) that there was sufficient empirical evidence to justify my religious beliefs. I expected my religious beliefs to be subject to skepticism and scientific scrutiny; it turned out that they did not stand up to the challenge, so I gave them up. Science and reason *are* the enemy of religion, and it turns out that all the creationists who used to tell me that I could not be a Christian evolutionist were correct.

  9. Cathedrals are in any case primarily a product of engineering, not religion. Four-centred arches, fan vaulting and flying buttresses were not divinely revealed to a pope during mass, and they are held up by the properties of the stone they are made of, not by prayer.

    The role of religion was solely to extract the necessary cash from the population.

  10. If teachers take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable

    …then in US public schools they would be fired for violating the Constitution.

    Even PZ says he doesn’t talk religion in his biology classes, and he teaches at the university level. This whole “teachers will tell kids there is no god” is nothing but a canard.

    1. Rees is British and was addressing a mainly British audience – the New Statesmen is little read outside the UK (actually, it’s little read inside the UK either!). In the UK, Christian worship and propaganda are legally mandated in state schools – the Education Act 1998 says that, subject to a parental right to say their child should not attend (note: the child gets no say): “…each pupil in attendance at a community, foundation or voluntary school shall on each school day take part in an act of collective worship.”. Elsewhere in the Act it specifies that in most cases (there are Jewish, Muslim and Hindu state-funded schools) this must be “broadly Christian in nature”. OTOH, it would not be illegal for a teacher to “take the uncompromising line that God and Darwinism are irreconcilable”, although it would likely lead to at least a warning of potential disciplinary action, and perhaps dismissal for persistent “offences”, if a parent complained. I’m not sure what would happen if they had simply answered a question about their own views honestly (which I think would be acceptable), as opposed to pushing those views on the issue on a class, which would not – whatever the views are. It would probably depend on the headteacher, a figure of great power in British schools.

  11. The Templeton Prize was not created specifically to reward people for finding ways of accommodating science and faith. Mother Theresa was the inaugural winner, and I don’t think she’s much known for her scientific credibility.

    The Templeton Prize has always been about reaffirming faith and spirituality. Why, then, get so worked up about its more modern focus on accommodation? It’s a “spirituality” foundation that is willing to offer a large sum of money to like-minded individuals. Who cares?

    1. “Who cares?”

      It is always annoying when someone says, “who cares?” during a discussion, especially when the person who introduced the topic obviously cares, as do others in the group.

    2. actually, you haven’t a clue what the Templeton foundation is about. What it is about is influence peddling. That’s what the grants are for, in very simple terms.

      It’s so they can point to yet one more scientist/educator and claim: “See? Science and religion not in conflict.” They can falsely claim there is legitimate dialogue between science and religion, when there is not.

      If you want to understand why people object to the Templeton Foundation, you should at least spend some time looking at what they have done, the things they have said at conferences, etc.

    3. Several reasons to care:

      1.) Their current accomodationist stance is, as you admit, now trying to blur the distinction between science and religion in the minds of the general public. They’re using the media and attempting to use scientific organizations themselves. Whether the focus is “modern” or longstanding seems to me to be irrelevant: who cares how long they’ve been at work on this particular thing? They’re doing it now.

      2.) If you’re an atheist, it’s perfectly reasonable to counter “affirming faith and spirituality” with “criticizing faith and spirituality.” The Templeton Organization is a big, fat, publicity hound. It’s not a simple little church giving out its own private little award for the parishoner who came up with the nicest prayer.

    4. What if money launderers set up a slush fund to reward doctors who claimed IV are good for your health, even though they wouldn’t use drugs themselves?
      Well, some would say “who cares”.

  12. For me, “Templeton” has become synonymous with “comforting lies to placate the vehemently, intentionally ignorant.” Everything from that institution is useless, when searching for knowledge or truth. They’ve become a pointless entity, in the world of advanced understanding, and should be left in the dust.

  13. I think Mr. Rees would have no trouble dismissing as absurd a modern revival of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, or Germanic religions. And I’m equally certain that he finds great beauty in the artistic expressions of those religions — the Parthenon, Jupiter Tonans, the Pyramids, the Nibelungenlied, and so on.

    That he considers the modern continuation of two of the contemporaries of those ancient religions worthy of respect would seem to imply that he has reason to believe that they are more credible than their long-since-discredited cousins.

    It would be most fascinating to understand, therefore, why Mr. Rees thinks one should respect the beliefs of somebody who fervently believes that Jesus was (in accordance with prophecy) the issue of the Heavenly Father by way of the Virgin Mary, yet he (presumably) would not respect the beliefs of somebody who fervently believed that Perseus was (in accordance with prophecy) the issue of Jupiter, the Father of the Gods, by way of the virgin Danae.

    Does he consider the Christian myths more compelling? If not, why will he not grant Christians the respect of treating them as adults and treating them with honesty rather than with such patronizing condescension?



    1. why will he not grant Christians the respect of treating them as adults and treating them with honesty rather than with such patronizing condescension?

      This. It is the atheist accommodationists who are treating the religious as idiots unable to reflect upon and argue for the validity of their position. The gnus take the beliefs of the religious seriously, and look at their implications — the accommodationists merely pat them on the head.

    2. I think Mr. Rees would have no trouble dismissing as absurd a modern revival of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, or Germanic religions.

      No, I suspect Rees wouldn’t dismiss them or find them any more absurd than Christianity, as long as they had some aesthetic value and seemed to make people happy. There are a lot of people with a “live and let live” attitude on religion. Now one of them is being officially honored.

      Rees doesn’t think truth matters any more in religion than it matters in art or literature — and is happy to think that the religious more or less concur. And the religious are happy to let him think that they don’t care much about truth either if it means an important scientist will smile on them.

      They’d prefer endorsement, of course, but the Templetons will apparently gladly settle for benign approval from the scientific gatekeepers.

  14. He’s already cashed their big cheque. Someone should tell him he can stop kissing up now.

  15. “many young people raised in a faith-based culture will stick with their religion and be lost to science”

    We’d be quite happy with the many others that can make the right choice, I’d think.

    1. What I hate the most about that is that he’s not citing anything when he says it!

      Making such sweeping statements without data to back you up is simply irresponsible.

  16. Natalie Angier:

    No, most scientists are not interested in taking on any of the mighty cornerstones of Christianity. They complain about irrational thinking, they despise creationist “science,” they roll their eyes over America’s infatuation with astrology, telekinesis, spoon bending, reincarnation, and UFOs, but toward the bulk of the magic acts that have won the imprimatur of inclusion in the Bible, they are tolerant, respectful, big of tent.

    Accommodation should be left to the religious, who actually require it.

  17. many young people raised in a faith-based culture

    If Roger understood what really supports the continuation of religious thought, then he would also know that nothing you say to someone truly raised in an evangelical community will matter… unless you can prove to them that the people they had relied on as peers were lying to them. THAT is what converts an evangelical. Placating their sense of religious experience does nothing, as does simple presentation of scientific information. No, you have to show them that their sources of authority are literally LYING. Then you can make progress with imparting actual scientific information. I’ve seen it hundreds of times myself, and the independent, peer-reviewed, scientific literature supports what I am saying, of course:

    There is ZERO evidence, in all of history, that the accomodationist approach has been successful in the long term in resolving the issues it is applied to.




    OTOH, LOTS of history for the efficacy of ridicule as a tool, for example.

    1. Yours is a very good point. It was only when I realised that my Christian teachers and mentors weren’t just mistaken — that they had actually been lying to me and were still willing to lie — that their influence over me disappeared.

      1. It was only when I realised that my Christian teachers and mentors weren’t just mistaken — that they had actually been lying to me and were still willing to lie — that their influence over me disappeared.

        Thanks for adding your voice to the dataset!

        I’ve now seen it hundreds + one times.


        First time I read Bloom and Weisberg’s work, I knew they had it figured correctly.

        People like Mooney read this stuff too, then twist it to somehow claim it supports their position, and people like Matzke eat it up.

        a perfect example is the very post by Matzke on PT that started this latest kerfuffle. It was a post praising Mooney for his insightfulness, based on Mooney basically saying the same things that Bloom and Weisberg have been saying for years, but, as I just mentioned… twisting it entirely 180 to say it supports accomodationism!

        Nick criticizes me for criticizing Mooney in the comments, but I note made absolutely no analysis of the work Mooney was referencing.

        again, with these people, it’s all about confirming preconceptions, and NOT about science.

        They truly are the ones hurting science education, and simply won’t even recognize it, let alone apologize for it!

    2. That’s a good point. Because if you try to sell them on “moderate” Christianity, you face the same battle. Their sources of authority preach from the pulpit, radio, TV, and their books and pamphlets that “moderate” Christianity is heresy, even non-Christian. It seems to be that to convince someone who was brought up evangelical to reject creationism would be just as difficult as getting them to reject Christianity altogether. Either way you are countering the explicit teachings of their authority figures and religious tradition.

      1. Surely the accommodationists would say: “Bloom and Weisburg show that we need moderate religious leaders as our allies, because most people accept or reject evolution based on the source, and they are influential.” Which is fine: Richard Dawkins has worked with clerics in combating creationism, and quite rightly. But this is a largely defensive strategy: it won’t reach the fundies, because they scorn the religious “moderates”. There, as Ichthyic says, B&W’s work points to a strategy of showing the fundies’ trusted sources to be untrustworthy – which of course they are. As has been said repeatedly, it’s not the gnu atheists who are insisting that everyone must follow the same strategy and prioritise the same goals.

  18. 42. The Notre Dame is worth 42 lives.

    Separately, I don’t see how it is productive strategy to combatting religious fundamentalists by tacitly validating their position (ie. religion).

    1. You see: if you disagree with their Creationism too strongly or bluntly, they’ll seize up and hold to their beliefs and hate science, but if you pretend their beliefs are OK, they’ll convert to Christianity Lite and become all science friendly. Or something.

  19. We should all oppose – as Darwin did – views manifestly in conflict with the evidence, such as creationism.

    We should be unsurprised that many phenomena remain unexplained, and dubious of any claim to have achieved more than a very incomplete and metaphorical insight into any profound aspect of our existence – and, especially, we should be sceptical of dogma. This is certainly why I have no religious belief.

    We should, we should, and, yet, we shouldn’t. Instead, we should offer deference and support to those who claim to have achieved very much more than a very incomplete and metaphorical insight into any profound aspect of our existence, and accuse those who share our understanding of preferring antagonistic debate.

    The man is such a…such a…Ah, fuck, what’s the word I’m thinking of? Begins with Q.

  20. “I would prefer to live in a world that didn’t have those cathedrals and music if it meant that the millions of people throughout history who were tormented and murdered by the faithful had been spared their suffering.”

    So would I. But we cannot rerun history, so we do not know how much suffering would have happened if Christianity had not happened.

    In my view of how things are, people would have died or suffered from some other belief or ideology. Communism is atheistic, but that mattered little to the hundreds of millions that died because Stalin and Mao. And maybe we wouldn’t have had the B-minor Mass.

    (Maybe we would have had something even more sublime, but it tests my imagination to guess what that might have been.)

    1. Communism is not atheistic.

      First, there is no element of atheism in communism as such. It is an political-economical ideology, not an atheistic movement.

      Second, considering that it is an untested or, worse, failed ideology, it is actually if anything a belief.

      Third, few if any communistic nations have been espousing atheism. Albania, but Hoxha was a certified nut; indeed Albanians count as ~ 80 % religious (half islamic, half christian). Most such nations have been variously repressing churches or promoting them for political reasons not related to atheism.

      You are a nut or, worse, willingly uneducated. Google it!

  21. Communism is atheistic

    …and it’s atheism entirely irrelevant to the people who died under the totalitarian dictators that claimed the mantle of communism.

    seriously, this inane equation of atheism with the deaths caused by Stalin and Mao just has to stop.

    what will it take? Is it really necessary to label as “idiot” those who repeatedly trot out this malign and mistaken trope?

    1. An “idiot” is a person who interprets this comment as stating that atheism was the cause. I am pointing out that non-theistic ideologies led to suffering too.

      1. gee, who on earth would interpret:

        “Communism is atheistic, but that mattered little to the hundreds of millions that died because Stalin and Mao.”

        especially in counter to Christianity’s influence, as implying atheism is the counter that was responsible?

        seriously, if you can’t see that as the obvious conclusion from exactly what you wrote, you ARE an idiot.

          1. oh?

            seems to me, I already have applied actual logic to your statement. Ball’s in your court to explain why my logic isn’t sound.

            or, you COULD simply reword your statement if you meant something other than what you actually wrote.

            either way.

              1. IOW, you’re wrong, and you do actually agree you wrote that poorly, but you won’t admit it.

                got it.

              2. …here, let me help you.

                If you didn’t mean to imply atheism as a root cause of bad behavior, you might want to modify your prose to omit it entirely?


                In my view of how things are, people would have died or suffered from some other belief or ideology. Communism mattered little to the hundreds of millions that died because Stalin and Mao.

                and you then would be implying that the ideology of communism itself wasn’t even responsible for the deaths of those people, while Stalin and Mao WERE.

                and you would have made a far more accurate statement.

            1. The statement “people suffered under atheistic ideology X” is not the same as “people suffered because ideology X is atheistic.” I figured anyone would understand that.

              1. May I suggest?

                Grammatically, you might be on solid ground.

                Rhetorically, you’re applying a salty poultice to a bruise that’s right next to an open abrasion.

                I think you would be wise to concede Ichtyic’s point and come up with a better way to express your own. Icthyic offered up an example I think you might find satisfactory.



              2. then you figured wrong, since that’s not at all what your statement implies, the way it is written.

                now stop flogging dead horses, and maybe consider a different wording in the future.

                or hell, don’t. Don’t expect people who read your comments to not call you an ass, though.

              3. Yes, from now on I will be very careful how I word my comments lest I offend the ideologues. LOL

              4. *sigh*

                you also apparently don’t know what the word “ideologue” means.

                I can see you’re not done digging your hole yet.

                Please, do continue.

    1. As Jerry would point out, its not a blog. A “blog” is what the cat does to eliminate a hairball — or, at least, that’s what it’s ounds like.

      Jerry doesn’t have a blog. he has a Web site.


      1. please tell me you’re joking?

        tell me then, what is written in the top left-hand column under “email subscription”.

    1. That’s why I find the accommodationist position more damaging than the Creationist position. The latter group know what they believe in and one can disprove it (to a sufficiently inquiring mind) by demonstrating the evidence.

      The latter group can and do believe anything, because that is what an accommodationist position instructs one to do: look at the evidence, understand and accept it and then perform a clever mind-trick to allow you tag on an extra belief (any and all variations welcome).

      This belief becomes an unsinkable rubber duck, because the clever mind-trick assures the holder that their own position needs no further examination.

  22. You wouldn’t want to bulldoze Stonehenge, so we have to keep sacrificing virgins there.

    Does not compute.

      1. Yes, Cathedrals are beautiful – well some are – but they represent a vanished age. We have to move on.

        The least Lord Rees could do would be absent himself from religious observation – do what Darwin did, wait ouside the church door.

          1. CD definitely waited outside while his wife & children attended the services… I expect it was valuable ‘alone’ time when he could think without anyone bothering him. There is still so much we do not know about him, even though so much survives. I dream of finding a lost Darwin letter in an old book some day!

  23. It’s hard to credit the breathtaking inanity for the Astronomer Royal—i.e. somebody who has a scientific reputation to lose—to simply rehash the two stupidest arguments accommodationists have come up with: there are lots of religious scientists, so there; and while science can of course criticize young-earth creationism, it must respectfully tiptoe away as soon as somebody invokes the magic word “miracle”.

    We have toiled this particular patch of ground most comprehensively on this blog [sic], most prominently in the Scott and Mooney dissemble post. But for Rees apparently to be unaware of The Relativity of Wrong makes him look all the more the fool.

  24. If religion becomes a purveyor of calm beautiful spaces for reflection and any needed communal ceremonies to mark the change points of our lives, it would be compatible.

    But that means rescinding their common entry charge of having to kowtow to a set of beliefs.

  25. It gets weirder.

    Rees wants “peaceful coexistence” (except with dogmatic religion), but not “constructive engagement” or “antagonistic debate”.

    So what’s left?

    Also, Darwin’s line about Newton and the dog comes from a letter to Asa Gray, not Agassiz.


  26. Pingback: Incredulity

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