God and science
Victor Hugo once said "There
is in every village a torch – the teacher: and an extinguisher – the clergyman."
His words reverberate today, and nowhere more so than at Granada University
where Archbishop Francisco Javier Martinez has withdrawn eight seminarians
(students sponsored by the Church) in protest at the teaching of bioethics. The
archbishop was not merely protesting about the inclusion of the subject
material in the undergraduate course, he was reacting against the very idea
that ethics could be taught outside of a religious framework.
His actions have attracted criticism
from more progressive voices in the Church and yet they draw attention to the
schism that exists between what many see as two opposing poles: science and
religion. The subject is a hot topic at the moment. From suicide bombers in
Iraq willing to sacrifice themselves in
the belief of an instantaneous entry into paradise, to ‘pro life’ anti-abortionists and a resurgent
belief in guardian angels among Americans (78% of the population), the belief
in a supernatural outside power is driving people to commit ever greater acts
And on the ‘other side’ ever greater
numbers are turning their backs on organised orthodox
religion, happy to allow science and reason to explain their existence. The
British popular fiction writer Richard Dawkins makes no apology for his full
frontal assault on religion in his new book "The God Delusion"
(Bantam Books, ISBN 0618680004). In it Dawkins makes the case that religion has
enjoyed an exclusive position of "privileged immunity against
criticism" for millennia and that there is no place in this advanced age
for such “superstitious nonsense”. The renowned geneticist goes on to argue a
theory of "religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something
useful" to explain how religion is able to spread "like a virus"
across societies. He objects vociferously to terms such as ‘Christian children’
or ‘a Muslim child’ – wondering how a
young child could be considered developed enough to have an intelligent and
considered view of its and by extension humanity’s place in the wider cosmos.
And his message is not falling on deaf ears – Dawkins’ book has occupied the
top spot on the Amazon bestseller list since its publication last month.
It was not meant to be so. The very
word ‘religion’ comes from ancient Greek and means literally re-attachment (lig=to attach, as in ligament). The ancient
Greeks saw religion or theology as the discipline of considering our places
within the vastness of the universe. The lines between science and religion (as
we now know it) were not clear cut and indeed a degree of holistic
contemplation was encouraged rather than derided. It is surely only in
relatively modern times (since the birth of Christ) that the different
religions and their teachings have become so aloof from criticism. Thomas
Jefferson couldn’t have put it better when he said "The priests of the
different religious sects…dread the advance of science as witches do the
approach of daylight, and scowl upon the fatal harbinger announcing the
subdivision of the duperies on which they live."