More Michael Ruse, I promised you. Very well then. I never forget a promise. There is
this review of Dawkins’ A Devil’s Chaplain from December 2003. I remember being rude about it at the time, though I can’t find the N&C I was rude in. I remember because my colleague was tiresome enough to disagree with something I said, and to say that Ruse had a point in one of the places I disagreed with him. Well I ask you – that can’t be right. Anyway, Ruse does say some odd things in this review.
But how then does Dawkins respond to the obvious retort of the religious, who have always stressed mystery? Some of the fundamental problems of philosophy are no closer to being solved today than they were at the time of the Greeks: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is this something not something else? What is mind, and are we unique? Perhaps one agrees that traditional religions—Christianity specifically—do not offer the full answers. But what is to stop a nonbeliever like myself from saying that the Christians are asking important questions and that they are right to have a little humility before the unknown?
Uh – yeah, this particular ‘one’ does agree that traditional religions don’t offer full answers. Actually I don’t think religions offer answers at all, not even partial ones. I don’t think the things they offer are answers. Because they’re not based on serious inquiry or investigation or hard thought, they’re based on revelation and a sacred book. ‘The Christians’ aren’t asking important questions, they’re making important assertions that are made up – that’s not the same thing. Of course there are Christians who ask important questions, but Christianity itself doesn’t. That’s not in its job description. It’s way too flattering to pretend otherwise. And what is this crap about humility? What is humble about making up the answers and then pretending they have some kind of weight? That’s not my idea of humility.
Then there is an old N&C on a different Ruse article. In which he said something that really got up my nose. (Something similar to the above comment, really. Yet he’s an atheist. What is it with all these atheists who fall all over themselves to misdescribe religion and give it way more credit than it deserves?)
People like Dawkins, and the Creationists for that matter, make a mistake about the purposes of science and religion. Science tries to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Religion aims at giving a meaning to the world and to our place in it. Science asks immediate questions. Religion asks ultimate questions. There is no conflict here, except when people mistakenly think that questions from one domain demand answers from the other. Science and religion, evolution and Christianity, need not conflict, but only if each knows its place in human affairs — and stays within these boundaries.
Sigh. Sure, religion aims, anybody can aim, but – oh never mind. You know what I’m going to say. Here is the article where Ruse said that and more. It’s basically about the compatibility of religion and ‘Darwinism’.
For refreshment, there is Jonathan Miller’s letter to the Guardian on Dylan Evans’ article. (I’m not the only one who was rude about it! Such a relief.)
I can’t speak for my friend Richard Dawkins, but I have no reason to believe that he naively regards science as substitute for religion (Letters, May 5). But instead of visualising it, as Dylan Evans does, as no more than “a means to an end”, Dawkins, like me, visualises the scientific worldview as an increasingly reliable representation of the way things are, and that as such it constitutes an end in itself…Even now I am disconcerted by the fact my intuitive disbelief merits a label, pejorative or otherwise. In fact if it weren’t for the intrusive indignation of those who do believe, it’s unlikely that I’d give the issue a second thought. But this doesn’t mean, as Evans insists, that people such as Dawkins and myself are crudely indifferent to the themes and concerns which religion and art express so differently, or that his supposedly more enlightened atheism puts ours to shame.
Of course it doesn’t. And it’s absurd to think otherwise.