After todays’s explosion of debate between the cloistered atheist-academics ‘Hawking and Dorking’ and their frankly relatively speaking, urbane antithesis in the likes of the Archbishop of Canterbury or Lord Sachs I felt inspired to write something down.
The most provocative thing I have read came from Hawkings partially published book in the Times Science Supplement. (Eureka). In this he said that ‘Philosophy is dead – it has not kept up with the modern developments of Physics’. I would differ with him on this point, and say that philosophy is increasingly vital, but as an activity that focuses on building a just and sustainable society. In this Endeavour – modern physics barely has a walk on part. The sciences of evolution and pure biology have little more to add except perhaps in as much as they play a part in helping us understand ourselves.
And it is this context that I want to comment on the current debate between science and religion.
One of Dawkins underlying motivations for his ferocious attack (so I understand) on religion is the great, large-scale ‘evil’ done in its name (such as the Spanish Inquisition, Crusades, etc etc).
I suspect though, it can be said that religion is an organizing force in society, and at many levels from the inter-personal to the inter-continental. Is it this success which makes it a lever for focusing so much suffering at the boundaries between religions.
But what would society look like without religion?
I think there are the following exhaustive and mutually exclusive answers to this question:
1) Religion is the only possible socially organizing force for Homo-Sapiens beyond family. As a species we remain at the clan/hinter-gatherer level of group organization;
2) Some other pantheon of socially motivating forces arise and:
a. Conflict and mass destruction arise at the boundaries of these forces – it is human nature to be in conflict with ‘other’;
b. These forces live in cohesion with one another – conflict is an intrinsic property of religion, and not of people;
3) Some perfectly organizing harmony arises, which is presumably blocked today by the ‘local evolutionary optima’ of religion.
The debate around religion has two thrusts:
1) is it meta-physically true;
2) is it valuable to society, in absolute or marginal terms, to other possible organizing forces for society;
My view is that whilst the answer to 1) is interesting (mainly to teenagers , academics and septuagenarians who have the time to worry about these things), it is the answer to 2) which is the really important one, and the questions above need to be answered to determine that.
To paraphrase Churchill, perhaps religion is the worst system of social organization, except for all the other systems.
Call this the administrative view of the existence of god…