Friday 15 October 2010

God and Science

Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience and a non-believer, hosts God and the Scientists, the penultimate episode of Christianity: A History. From Oxford to Dayton, Tennessee; from the Kentucky Creation Museum to the Large Hadron Collider, this is quite a romp. What seems like a rather sedate science-history doco at the outset - Copernicus and Galileo - morphs slowly into an impressive "curates egg."

Richard Dawkins puts in a very brief appearance, but I was more interested in the contributions by Ron Numbers, the former Seventh-day Adventist who has exposed the dubious history of creationism, and David Paterson, an Anglican priest who expounds the view taken by the "Sea of Faith" movement, which draws on the work of philosopher and renegade theologian Don Cupitt. Paterson makes the statement - profound or incomprehensible depending on your point of view - that there is no real difference between theism and atheism except the terminology.

Blakemore is clearly unimpressed by the persistence of religion, despite the best efforts of an affable Vatican astronomer, and given his later interview with Jason Lisle, a resident scientist at the Creation Museum, it's hard not to have some sympathy with his frustrations. Like many with similar views, reason stands firmly at Blakemore's back, but alas, there is not a lot of poetry evident in his soul. At the end of the day, religious belief is all about poetry and metaphor; how else could it be? Which is probably why wooden-headed fundamentalism of whatever persuasion is such a "fundamentally" stupid idea.

An atheist producing an episode in a series on the history of Christianity? Somehow I can't imagine one of the big American networks taking that kind of risk. Too bad.


  1. An atheist producing an episode in a series on the history of Christianity? Somehow I can't imagine one of the big American networks taking that kind of risk. Too bad.

    I dunno, Fox is pretty godless these days. They might take a shot at it. Definitely not the Big Three, though. Too many phone calls from blue haired old ladies.

    Fortunately, most households have cable these days, so that ups the ante to about 900 channels. We already get BBC America. Maybe we'll get OZ America someday.

  2. I agree. American networks basically play to the majority. That's why what they do is called "broadcasting" rather than "narrowcasting". Our PBS does take risks, but it is publically and (reluctantly and often invisibly) governmentally funded (thru grants), as opposed to being a commercial network. As such, PBS can occasionally offord to offend viewers with non-mainstream information and thinking.

    One of the difficulties with public discourse on the topics of science and religion is that many folks have a problem getting beyond dealing in stereotypes. As an example, just because one identifiable Christian subgroup believes in literal seven day creation, making the earth about 6,000 years old, there are some who will extrapolate this belief over the entire body of believers, and therefore ridicule the entire body of Christian believers. This is both disingenuous, and unfair. And, to be fair myself, some Christians indulge in this same error with regard to scientists. This, unfortunately, keeps much of the discussion firmly in the error realm, and we are robbed of any possible discovery of the real truth. There are scientists who believe in God, and there are Christians who believe in the evolutionary process known as Old Earth Creation. And, you have many folks whose shades of grey thinking fits between these two major categories.

    What I've found is that the proverbial seeker of truth, in the purest form, is very rare. Following the evidentiary trail without agenda is very difficult, simply because most humans have at least some semblance of agenda, and can recognize an agenda in others, but not in self.


  3. I've got no dog in the hunt vis a vis American TV, as I hardly ever turn the idiot box on, anymore, but I can highly commend the Sea of Faith website, wherein you will also find prominent Non-theist Friend David Boulton.

    As for the original post, I'd just like to comment on this:

    "At the end of the day, religious belief is all about poetry and metaphor; how else could it be?"

    That's a beautiful sentiment, Gavin, and I would that others would share it with you. Unfortunately, it seems to be "poetry and metaphor", but always up to a certain line (drawn in different places by different people). Which is part of the reason why I never could get 100% into the Gnostic mindset, no matter how much the myths and poetry of their writings drew me in; there was always a point along the journey where I departed from the beauty and intricacy of the metaphor, when it threatened to morph into something terrifying and literal.

    And that's just inside my own head! The institutional religions have very much got the patent on that trick, and have been enforcing it, for nigh on three thousand years now!

  4. I've read David Boulton's "Who on Earth was Jesus?" Good stuff!

  5. Boulton's Will the Real Jesus Please Stand up? is available free for download on Sea of Faith. I can't recommend the site highly enough. You ask me, I think the Brit Quakers have their heads screwed on straight (most of them, anyway), and it has nothing whatsoever to do with being Ephraim or Israel or any of that other biblical nonsense.