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Philo and Sophia

The Persecution Of Johnny Ball and The intolerance Of Warmageddonists
by Ian R Thorpe.

Veteran TV presenter Johnny Ball, whose programmes on science and mathematics enthused many young viewers in a way formal education never can, probably did not realise he was stepping into a lion's den when he voiced his opinion that the mathematics on which the carbon driven global warming case rests are very dodgy. The Climate Science Warmageddonists turned their fury on him as they have on all who challenge the teachings of their doomday cult.

Religion and Science: The Fourth World War?
by Ian R Thorpe.
2011-05-04
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: science, religion, scientists, templeton, prize, rees, dawkins, cosmologist, cosmos, god, gene, physics, biology, culture, church, human, militant, atheist, tolerance

Not long ago Martin Rees was awarded the 2011 Templeton prize for making an exceptional contribution to investigating the spiritual dimension of human life. The response from those who would elevate that vague, amorphous concept they call science to the status of a religion were predictably appalled and turned on Rees with all the venom they usually aim at young earth creationists.

So what crime, exactly what scientific heresy was Prof. Rees, an eminent cosmologists and avowed atheist alleged to have committed?

While pop science icon Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and theorist of the highly speculative selfish gene, might claim to be the most famous scientist in Britain. Lord Martin Rees – astronomer royal, former president of the Royal Society, master of Trinity College, Cambridge – is probably the most academically distinguished.

Last year, Dawkins self indulgently published bad tempered criticism of the unassuming astronomer, calling him a "compliant Quisling" because of his views on religion. What are Rees' views on religion that irritate Dawkins and his thousands of coneheaded journeyman followers? Well he believes that as science clearly has no adequate answers to the great questions humans have always posed it is unreasonable to seek to marginalise those who find comfort in believing there is a higher being or force than humans.

Even that degree of acceptance of peoples' right to believe in something that helps them make sense of their existence is enough to anger the science is God brigade. In fact the acceptance of the Templeton Prize, founded by a financier who was also a devout Christian, by a scientist is anathema to the Science is God brigade. Though they deny it publicly one cannot fail to conclude they would only be satisfied if all churches, temples, synagogues, and chapels were demolished (but not mosques, the science is God squad sheeple are all lefties and it is off message to criticise Islam at the moment, Muslims being the politically correct flavour of the month.

Rees may be a quiet, modest man but he is not a wimp and he has fired a broadside back at Dawkins, defending his actions in accepting the 2011 Templeton prize, awarded for making an exceptional contribution to investigating life's spiritual dimension. It is worth an incongruous $1m.

Dawkins has wrought many a cutting phrase when talking about religion. "Quisling" however, the name of the Norwegian politician who in World War 2 sold out to Hitler, is strong even by his standards. To equate a mere acceptance that there may be more to life than can be explained by physics, chemistry and biology with collaboration with the Nazi regime during the second world war should make us wonder how firm Dawkins' grip on sanity is.. Rees, a collaborator? How and with whom has he collaborated? The Royal Society lent its prestige to the Templeton Foundation by hosting events sponsored by the fund, which supports a variety of scientific projects investigating the link between health and wellbeing and faith (an investigation I have reported on in an earlier article Science, Superstition and Belief).

Dawkins and Rees employ a vastly different tone when involving themselves in the debate between science and religion. While Dawkins believes the contributions of the science lobby should be either angry and dismissive or superior and laden with sneering sarcasm and devotes his undoubted intelligence and resources to challenging, questioning and mocking faith. Rees, though an atheist, values the cultural and social legacy sustained by the church and other faith traditions. He confesses a liking for choral evensong in the chapel of Trinity College. It seems a modest indulgence. The ethereal voices of rehearsing choristers can literally be heard from his front door. For Dawkins this damns Martin Rees as a "fervent believer in belief". And that is a foul betrayal of science, equal to collaboration with a fascist regime.

The author and playwright Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The History Boys and much more including a stage play with the bizarre title Kafka's Dick,) is also an atheist but in his memoir 'Untold Stories' he writes fondly and at length of his love of ancient Churches, not just the famous ruins and ancient Cathedrals but the village churches. They are part of the landscape and the fabric of history he says. (The Church of St. Mary and All Saints, Whalley, Lancashire parts of which are over 1000 years old)

Maybe I am too biased to write objectively on this issue, I too would be what Dawkins in his more temperate mood calls an "accommodationist", I love the big questions and have often baited the more strident fundamentalists on the web but have also deconstructed Big Bang Theory and often write about the mysteries that science is not even close to answering but religion provided for those who cannot be satisfied with 'I just don't know' something they can accept.

Rees pursues the same big question through cosmology as the people I read approach through philosophy. Both these subjects fascinate many millions of people around the world for similar reasons. Is there life like ours on other planets? What is the nature of our connectedness with the stars? Is the Higgs Boson, if it exists, truly the God Particle? It is partly for his insights on such matters that Martin Rees has won the prize. But if he is modest about what can be achieved for religious belief by science, he insists that scientists should not stray into theological territory that they do not and simply don't wish to understand.

Last year, when his fellow cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, declared in a new book that philosophy is dead, because physics is triumphant, Rees advised readers not to take too much notice. "I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read very little philosophy and even less theology," he said.

Other winners of the prize have expressed similar intellectual caution, individuals including Paul Davies, John Barrow and John Polkinghorne. Interestingly, past winners display very different attitudes towards faith, too. If Rees is an atheist, Polkinghorne is a Christian and an Anglican priest. Davies is not, though he believes it is perfectly valid to pursue questions of meaning in the context of what is being discovered about the cosmos. After all, is it not a mystery nobody has yet come close to answering that our universe has produced entities within it capable of asking such questions – namely ourselves?

Rees's acceptance of the prize means the substantial resources of the Templeton Foundation have, in effect, been welcomed at the heart of the British scientific establishment. That such a highly regarded figure has received its gift will make it that little bit harder for Dawkins to sustain respect amongst his peers for his crusade against religion and for idiotic science hacks to dismiss as stupid slaves to superstitions anyone who expresses a sceptical attitude to the outrageous claims of scientists, in support of their research grant phishing (e.g. a vaccine to cure Alzheimer's disease - any reasonably well educated lay person would know Alzheimer's is not caused by a virus. They mean an injection or regular injections, like the injections of insulin that diabetics must have)

When the cultural history of our times comes to be written, Templeton 2011 could be mentioned, at least in a footnote, as marking a turning point in the "God wars". The power of voices like that of Dawkins and Ben Goldacre, writer of the Bad Science column in The Guardian newspaper and an author whose completely unscientific hissy fits at the mere mention of certain subjects mark him as one of Britain's leading bigots) may actually have peaked, and now be on the wane. Science could be said to have rejected their zealotry in favour of reason and logic. Rees has brought a more scientific attitude to the debate.

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