16 October 2008

Time Out: The Bear consults with his maker

picture by J.Salmoral
Last Tuesday I snuck out early from work. Impending doom is supposed to focus the mind, but  for me: not: it clouds it, and I couldn't concentrate. Instead I holstered my Blackberry and hurried through the warm evening to St Paul's Cathedral, to hear the first of their series on science and religion. I had been invited by a religious friend, Mark, who has never quite given up hope that'll he convert me. I agreed to go with him for much the same reason.

The panel were not a cross-section: they believed, and so each of them were dominated by a great unseen presence of their imagining: invisible but constant, with an authoritative answer to every question,  a small assured voice in their ear, nagging at their better judgement. I refer of course to Richard Dawkins who dominated proceedings from afar.

I wrote in my notebook the words "DAWKINS" and "GOD", and underlined both and annoyed Mark intensely by making a tick every time either got a mention. "First to ten?" I whispered, as Dawkins took a commanding 6-2 lead.

The panel soon achieved a consensus: science and religion should work together. There was no need to see them as fundamentally separate, they can learn from each other: different domains, you see.

It was all terribly Church of England. I longed for a fundamentalist view to spark some controversy, some hissing even: a scientist with contempt for the supernatural? an evangelical bible-literalist to tell us we the earth was younger than the Great Pyramid? Either would have been good, but instead we had Nancy Cartwright, Nicholas Last, John Millbank and Roger Trigg.

In my notebook I recorded every thought from the speakers that seemed to me interesting or novel. Trigg had the most  - by a country mile -  so here's two of his:
  1. If you cannot conceive of anything that could shake your faith, in other words if your faith does not exclude anything... then you believe in everyhting and nothing at all. He was thinking 'religion' I was thinking 'climate change'
  2. Scientific study as we know it could only have arisen in Christian context. It was Christian teaching that allowed the possibility the God could have created the world anyway he wanted...so it was in order to investigate exactly how he did do it. I was thinking 'Arabic Maths? Egyptians measuring the circumference of the Earth?'
Nicholas Last asked the unbelievers present (I sat up straight) what they would consider to be evidence for the existence of God.

It was a good question.

Last had a poor answer - that the whole world was evidence for God [see (1)].  I thought of Carl Sagan's answer. That would do it for me.

At the end there were self-important questions from the audience "Don't you agree that science itself requires more faith than belief in  God?" (No), and then were released into the humid night.

I took my friend to one my favourite pubs, which was a mistake because that was evening it had no beer. God saw us coming...or did he? We settled into a corner table and considered the evening.
"It ended Dawkins 15, God 11", I told Mark. "I call that a clear win"
"You can say that if you like, he mumured, "but Dawkins wasn't even here . ..and we have to assume that God was"

We are going again on the 28th.


Jody Stowell said...

this made me laugh - a self-described reluctant convert, as i said to you on my blog 'seeker' is the more comfortable word to describe the christian....

Tim Atkinson said...

And on what evidence can it reasonably be concluded that Dawkins wasn't there, at least in spirit?!

Botogol said...

@jody - warm welcome to gi, but you don't snare me that easily! anthropological interest only I am afraid :-)

@dotterel - do you know, I like to think he was. Hofstadter has developed,in his last two books, an interesting theory of how if the patterns of one person's mind - the software - the soul if you like [no, jody, not really the soul, it's a metaphor :-)] can transfer to another mind, then in a way the person has moved brains.

It sounds crazy but.. maybe there is a bit of dawkins in all of us.

Unfortunately for me, I have his charm and his tolerance :-)

Jody Stowell said...

ah memes, my favourite.

i'm not the 'snaring' kind of christian anyway, well hope i'm not, although i find the tendency in all of us - for your anthropological study ;-) - we all want to belong and then have people join our group to validate it, whatever group that is.

i find more depth in the joining together with other pilgrims along the way - again 'journeying' has become a little bit of a buzzword, but it is a good one i think.

Botogol said...

"we all want to belong and then have people join our group to validate it, whatever group that is"

I agree. Do you think this is actually at the heart of why many people go to church nowadays?

Jody Stowell said...

hmmm, well it's good to journey together. in the end i want to follow jesus (oh no i mentioned the 'j' word :-), part of which means that i find community with others who follow him - not in the happy-clappy we're all friends type way, but because i am 'forced' to walk with those who walk with jesus.

the idea is that it stops us from just being together with people who are 'just like us' - because God invites everyone.

unfortunately a lot of church communities end up being PLU filled, this is a problem.

not sure i answered your question :-)

Botogol said...

"a lot of church communities end up being PLU filled, this is a problem"

on the contrary: for many I think it's an attraction.Perhaps *the* attraction!