‘Aims To’

Here it is again – that endlessly repeated untrue statement about the utility of religion.

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.

Dawkins does not make a mistake. It’s simply not true to say or imply that religion makes no attempt to tell us about the physical world and how it works. Granted, its statements are much more easily arrived at than those of science, because miracles and the supernatural are no obstacle, whereas scientific inquiry tends to like to avoid that kind of thing. But just because religion talks about a deity that is everywhere and omniopotent and omniscient and benevolent (large problems right there, as everyone knows) – just because it talks about an entity that there’s no evidence for, in other words, an entity that’s easy to imagine but hard to find, doesn’t mean it’s not making any claims about the physical world.

But even worse is the next bit. Religion ‘aims’ at giving a meaning – well what good is that?! We all ‘aim at’ lots of things; so what? That’s evasive language, that’s what that is. The point is, religion claims to do more than just ‘aim at’ giving a meaning, it claims to succeed, and that’s a much more ambitious claim. And then a little farther on – religion asks ultimate questions. Sigh. So what? I can do that too, so can you, so can anyone. Just because we can ask a question doesn’t mean there’s an answer to it! In fact it doesn’t mean it’s not a damn silly question. As a matter of fact that’s another thing Richard Dawkins talked about on the Start the Week I mentioned below.

And then the nonsense about each knowing its place. Well religion doesn’t know its place, so what’s the point of saying that! Religion does try to tell us how the world is, and it’s really not honest to pretend it doesn’t. There’s so much weasling about religion around these days. Pretending it’s really exactly like poetry or music, it’s really just a feeling about the world, it’s really just hope or aspiration or wonder. If it were, I wouldn’t have a word to say against it, but it’s not, so I do.

It’s odd, this guff came from Michael Ruse. He’s not silly, at least I don’t think so, at least I read a good essay by him once. Perhaps he’s gone squishy since then.

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