Friday, March 14, 2008


Richard Dawkins has quipped that the Templeton Prize- a stupendously expensive honor tagged at 1.6 million$, more than the Nobel Prize- is given to someone "who is prepared to say something nice about religion". The Prize, whose motive I have never understood, is awarded each year to people who "have made progress in science and religion". Apart from satisfying the personal whims and perspectives of its wealthy patron, I am not sure why a prize should automatically be awarded to someone who is willing to praise religion.

But even that kind of opinion would not do harm, because after all it would be an opinion. Stranger is the viewpoint of those who try to reconcile science and religion in weird ways, and their words can even be damaging because of their misleading meaning. Michael Heller, who is both a priest and cosmologist, unfortunately seems to come from such a breed. The Polish Catholic priest who has been awarded the prize this year says some strange things, not quite unprecedented in our times, but causing more trouble than good in my opinion:
"In an interview with Ecumenical News International the day before the 12 March announcement, Heller reiterated his belief that the oft-described "two worlds" of religion and science are not at odds, saying that without the meaning afforded by religion, "science would be meaningless"...
I certainly don't think science is meaningless or even lame without religion, at least the kind of religion that is practiced by followers of organized religions. What does the "meaning afforded by religion" even objectively mean? There may be some perceived connection between some of the more abstract notions espoused in the Eastern religions, but again, it is dangerously easy to see connections between science and spirituality where none could exist- Fritjof Capra has done this, and Deepak Chopra has taken it to pathological levels.

Now I am no "fundamentalist atheist". I do take objection to some of the more one-sided sounding views on religion held by Dawkins and others. But that's ok. Rational thinkers usually don't agree completely with each other and that's how progress is collectively made possible. In any case, I do agree with the gist of what the "new" atheists say. My problem is not so much with whether it is "right" or "wrong" but with whether it will work. Whether we like it or not, we will need the help of both moderate atheists and religious moderates to get a handle on religious fundamentalism. No matter how right atheists are, it is quite likely that it would be religious moderates who would be able to more or at least as much effectively fight fundamentalists on their own ground. Religious beliefs or the lack thereof are just like other strongly-held opinions. To change them, one needs to adapt to the need and situation, and different approaches are needed with different kinds of people. Some people needed to be scolded, some need to be cajoled. No matter how bang-on-target atheists' arguments are, aggressive attitudes simply don't work with everyone, it's just human nature.

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Blogger PH said...

Stumbled across ur blog via a fellow "sciento-phile":) it's a pleasure having found a site I'm sure I'll spend hours reading:))

>>Now I am no "fundamentalist atheist". I do take objection progress is collectively made possible.<<<

Amen to that!

1:40 PM  

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