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?