Just a Bit More

Just a little more about the religion article. Because there really is a lot of nonsense in that piece. I only talked about some of it, and I find there’s another bit I just can’t leave alone, in the last paragraph.

It is often said that science answers “how” questions while religion asks “why”, but that is simplistic. The greater point lies in their scope. Religion, properly conceived, attempts to provide an account of all there is: the most complete narrative that human beings are capable of. Science, by contrast, is – as the British zoologist Sir Peter Medawar put the matter – “the art of the soluble”. It addresses only those questions that it occurs to scientists to ask, and feel they have a chance of answering. The account it provides is wonderful. It has shown that the universe is incomparably more extraordinary, and altogether more glorious, than could ever be conceived by the unaided imagination. Yet it succeeds by narrowing its focus, as a matter of strategy. The story that science tells us, then, does not stand in contrast to that of religion (properly conceived). It is embedded within it.

The longer you look at that the more ridiculous it becomes. First of course there’s the obvious point, that religion can ‘ask why’ all it wants to, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it can’t answer the question any more than anyone else can. It claims to answer it, of course, but as I keep saying, that’s another matter. Claiming isn’t doing; the word is not the deed and shouldn’t be taken for it. But that’s a comparatively minor point next to the really absurd last three sentences. Science is somehow inferior or subordinate to religion because it narrows its focus, it addresses only the questions scientists feel they have a chance of answering. Oh, I see – that’s a problem, is it? It’s better to do what religion does, and ask questions it doesn’t have a chance of answering? And then answer them anyway, by the simple expedient of making it up? That’s better, is it? Ask impossible questions and then make up answers instead of finding pesky old evidence? Thus coming up with the most complete [however fictional] narrative that human beings are capable of? What about those of us who don’t actually want a ‘narrative’ (which is a nice way, i.e. stealth rhetoric, of saying myth or fairy tale or story) but instead want an explanation or a hypothesis? Are we ’embedded’ in the story that religion (properly conceived) tells us too? I refuse, I refuse to be embedded.

A reader emailed me the witty suggestion that the article is a Sokallish hoax. Interesting thought. ‘Perhaps funnier though mortifying if he really meant it. I hope it is an attempt to expose how ‘religious tolerance’ allows utter drivel to not just be printed but thought.’ Indeed. Religous tolerance has a lot to answer for.

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