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Otherwise, one field risks becoming subordinate to the other; although it's likely that Coyne's theology is extraordinarily sophisticated, the brief excerpt of it that Bill Maher uses leads the viewer to suspect that if these precepts are followed to their logical conclusion, religion will always give way to science as John Paul II gave way to the certainty that organisms evolve over time.
If so, then efforts to restore faith to a more equal footing are naturally vulnerable to claims that they are reactionary attempts to usurp science's rightful and supreme interpretative role in modern life. It is easy to understand Richard Dawkins' profound revulsion over what he sees as resurgent religiosities surrounding Islamic fundamentalism on the one hand and Christian fundamentalisms on the other: These faith-oriented responses to world events pose an implicit challenge to his own conviction that all aspects of experience are the product of physical entities and so can be explained by scientific means, while their militant expression poses a more explicit threat to his freedom of thought. And given the process of secularization, these militant responses seem to him to be both dangerous and perverse in their recalcitrance.
It is easy to understand Dawkins' position, and likely this is why he appears to be so well received by the TED audience. However, it is hard to understand his own refusal to engage with religious thought as anything but a caricature of faith at its worst. The opening chapter of The God Delusion is punctuated with quite expressive paeans to the aesthetic appeal of a pantheistic science, the "transcendent wonder that religion monopolized in past centuries." But when he argues that this is not religion in itself, he falls strangely flat, offering only the rejoinder that if God is energy, then God is [in] coal. For Dawkins, this is obviously meant to be risible, but similar formulations have illuminated the work of mystics (not to mention poets) throughout human history, and in any event religion endures.
Dawkins' real dispute with communities of faith is over the personality that this pantheistic "big God" of Sagan and Einstein exhibits. The sentiments that arise from the contemplation of immensity or microscopic complexity are not in any way conventionally "religious" in that they do not point to an anthropomorphic creator or other divine presence. But by focusing on this personal God as the essential characteristic of a religious viewpoint, he can strip these unconventional but positive insights and experiences from religion and annex them to a "scientific" worldview. Wonder and awe are not normally classified as intrinsic to science and pantheism is not generally considered "a sexed-up atheism," but the thrust of Dawkins' rhetoric would have it so. And thus, instead of defending his "science" (which, at this point in his career, seems defined less by the open search for empirical truth than by its formal opposition to God) from invasive religious orthodoxies, he is actually engaged in co-opting the best parts of religion and art and leaving everything that doesn't work to the fundamentalists he despises.
By far the most constructive viewpoint is that expressed by Brian Cox of CERN and Victor Stock, dean of Guildford Cathedral. While their discussion barely skirts its own inherent pitfalls (notably a tendency to reduce both science and religion to a blandly "metaphysical" vocabulary), it still presents a relatively strong case for the coexistence of religious and scientific modes of thought in contemporary life. Instead of focusing on the contradictions that emerge when convictions are challenged, Cox and Stock find parallels between their separate attempts to come to certainty in the first place.
Rather than serving as a repository for the irrational in a scientized universe, Stock's religion is an active laboratory where archaic concepts are put to use; for him, God is not so much the a priori authority with which religious questions are answered, but the question itself, the religious "hypothesis." Likewise, Cox seems too busy actually investigating the wondrous complexities of nature to spend much time defending scientific dogma. Religion and science here are not "hermetically sealed compartments," to use Stock's phrase. They are simply two seats in the same cathedral of creation, separated by an aisle.[continue]
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