Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Science and Religion for 2007

Cosmic resolutions for 2007

A great opinion piece by Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, past chairman of the astronomy department at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington:

...This year Dawkins, in "The God Delusion," argued for replacing righteousness with a blend of Darwinian personal ethos and rational calculation. Unfortunately, he makes his case while chastising the faithful with boundless hubris. His indifferent reductionist philosophy peremptorily discards the morality of religion. Dawkins' book tries to quantify human attitudes and rationalize human spirit, but in so doing it leaves the creation without an ethical context, and thoughtful religious believers dismayed if not a bit bewildered...

I think this is the problem many people have with Dawkins. But I can understand why so many scientist are upset. They have had to endure years of dim witted, yet rather effective, attacks by members of the anti-science and Theocon crowd. In some ways, it's good to see scientists finally goaded into action. Yet the sharpness of Dawkin's attacks are reminiscent of an overly intelligent enraged child, in love with his words and careless of who he hurts. There are many religious and spiritual people who embrace the findings of science. They don't like what the Theocons and Absolutists are doing--any more than scientists do! To pretend otherwise denies some wonderful and powerful allies, who have considerable experience in this fight. Smith goes on: is possible to appreciate both the insights of religion and the lessons of science... Their perspectives, while different, are not necessarily contradictory. Their moral imperatives can enrich and motivate both rational and righteous behavior...

Smith is right. I find the dialog of scientists such as the entomologist E. O. Wilson to be much more helpful than Dawkins. Wilson explores this technique in "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth", an effort to get the two camps to join forces in fighting our common enemies. Smith concludes:

...In 2007, I hope that science and religion can cooperate, not clash, to solve social problems. I hope we listen with tolerance to opposing opinions, and replace hostile, defensive rhetoric with thoughtful analyses. And, not least, we need to become better informed about our marvelous, blessed world...

What a nice wish for the coming New Year!

No comments: