Bunting redux

Guess who’s back – why, it’s Madeleine Bunting. ‘What’s she up to now?’ you cry in pleased surprise. She’s going out of her way to show us how silly she can be, yet again.

There is a school of thought that the new atheists have so polarised the debate about the relationship between science and religion that it’s not a conversation worth having. The “Ditchkins” – as Terry Eagleton describes them in his recent book – have developed such a crude argument about religion based on their boasted ignorance of the thinking which underpins belief that it’s hard to know how a dialogue is possible.

‘School of thought’ – she means herself saying it, and Terry Eagleton saying it, and one or two other woolly prats saying it. That’s not actually a school of thought.

So what happens when there is an attempt at a very different kind of conversation which is not around the extremes of belief and non belief but largely amongst thoughtful believers, many of whom might be scientists? That was the proposition behind Lambeth Palace’s gathering of scientists, philosophers and theologians yesterday morning.

Ooooh, doncha wish you’d attended that? No, neither do I.

[T]he Archbishop of Canterbury was brisk, and he warned, “beware of the power of nonsense”. Science’s triumphalist claim as a competitor to failed religion was dangerous. In contrast, he offered an accommodation in which science and religion were “different ways of knowing” and “what you come to know depends on the questions you start with”. Different questions lead to “different practices of learning” – for example different academic disciplines. Rather than competitors, science and religion were both needed to pursue different questions.

Uh huh. And the archbishop doesn’t believe the Nicene creed. Except of course he does.

I am genuinely a lot more conservative than [Bishop John Shelby Spong] would like me to be. Take the Resurrection. I think he has said that of course I know what all the reputable scholars think on the subject and therefore when I talk about the risen body I must mean something other than the empty tomb. But I don’t. I don’t know how to persuade him but I really don’t.

Thank you Edmund Standing.

It was science which had established the nature of global warming and science would play a role in inventing the innovations which could mitigate its impact, but religion also had a role as an agent of change of personal behaviour. It had a crucial role because religion essentially concerned itself with relationships to other people, to the rest of humanity and to the natural environment.

Because religion and religion alone concerns itself with that; there is no secular discipline or way of thinking or set of ideas that concerns itself with relationships to other people; therefore religion has a crucial role. Except that the first part isn’t true. Other than that, it hangs together a treat.

There’s other stupid crap in there – crap about consumerism, crap about Darwin leading to Goebbels – but that’s enough to clutter the place up with. Bunting did a bang-up job of showing us what she set out to show us. We’re convinced.

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