18 April 2006


A Secular Easter Message

Since Easter messages have been put out from the Vatican and from Lambeth Palace it occurred to me that we also ought to put forward a message from Secular Hall appropriate for this time of year, the Spring Equinox. It seems the common element in the messages has been the relationship between science and religion.

In the Pope's message he invokes science to understand the 'resurrection':

"If we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest 'mutation,' absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history."

It struck me that this idea harks back to those of Teilhard de Chardin who, in the 1950s, tried to combine catholicism and evolution. At the time his ideas were criticised by the church authorities, but perhaps he is coming back into favour. 'Bobsie' on the Brights forums located this link: Ratzinger on Teilhard. He could even end up as a saint!

The Archbishop was more concerned with the historical truth of the resurrection. Combining a comment about obsession with 'The da Vinci Code' with the recently rediscovered 'Gospel according to Judas': Archbishop's message or here.

The Bishop of Oxford wrote that science adds to his faith but atheists lack logic: Bishop Harries Atheists. There are many comments attached to that article in which atheists give a strong account of themselves by tearing the Bishop's 'logic' to pieces.

So, what should be the Secularists' message for this hopeful time of year? We are happy to see the religions beginning to try to take account of the findings of science and adjust the interpretation of their teachings accordingly, so that only the extremists among them are still prepared to fight against the power of scientific evidence. We would also like to see more recognition of science within Islam, which once many centuries ago controlled countries that led the world in science.

But we still find it difficult to understand the religious idea of 'logic'! Perhaps we just have to accept that religious thought is an 'alien' way of thinking (using the term in the science fictional sense). If rationalists are sometimes accused of being too-logical 'Vulcans' what alien race(s) do the Pope, the Archbishop and the Bishop come from? If we are to live in peaceful coexistencve with these alien minds, perhaps we just have to learn to tolerate the moderate ones and learn to be diplomatic about their curious ways of thought.

There are some who think that perhaps some eventual agreement can be reached through the processes of science, applied to our understanding of religious thought, as in two new books: Lewis Wolpert's Six Impossible Things and Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell. These are hopeful that applying the developing ideas of 'evolutionary psychology' and 'memes' may lead somewhere.

Personally I remain sceptical of these new approaches. For me religion is already sufficiently explained in terms of wish fulfillment and the inertia of old ideas. When someone we love dies we ask "wouldn't it be nice if they went on living somewhere other than just in our memories". When we can't work out the best line of action we think "wouldn't it be nice if there was some benevolent father figure up there somewhere who has everything planned out for us". It's a natural way of thought. Why do we need any more elaborate explanations?

(George Jelliss)


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