The God Issue?

This week’s edition of the New Scientist is deals with what they call “the surprising new science of religion”. Called ‘The God Issue‘, they publish a variety of articles looking at different aspects of God and faith. (I’ve linked to the articles, but a subscription is required). I think it’s great that an international popular science magazine is taking the idea of God seriously enough to devote a number of articles to. I wanted to start with a few comments on the leading editorial article. I’ve also blogged about Stenger’s article ‘The God Hypothesis’.

I wanted to start with the editorial because it rather sets the tone for the rest of the articles, which are all skeptical and antagonistic towards any synergy between science and faith. It would have been good to have at least given one of the many scientists who are also believers a right of reply!

The editorial is entitled “Know your enemy”; a balanced start! (Interestingly, on the website it has been renamed “To rule out god, first get to know him”). It then gets better, as they state that “the new science of religion” shows that “Children are born primed to see god at work all around them”. This links to one of the articles by Justine Barrett, but suffice to say at the moment that this is in line with what theology would expect: if we’re made in God’s image then we are going to search for him. They go on to talk about that religion’s “biological roots” and argue that that understanding should change how secularists approach debate with faith positions. They also argue that this explains the antipathy to atheism.

They then make the unsubstantiated claim that “religious claims still wither under rational scrutiny and deserve no special place in public life.” This seems to be the basic assumption behind most of the articles in this edition, and also behind the general secularist approach. The problem with it is that it is deeply debatable and seems to rather rely on assumptions similar to Hulme‘s approach: he effectively assumed that miracles couldn’t happen, and so argued that they couldn’t happen. To cite just one counter-example (of someone who believes that rational scrutiny supports religious claims): in 1998 New Scientist published a review by Simon Ings of John Polkinghorne’s book Belief in God in an age of science. He concludes that “Polkinghorne’s argument for the proposition that God is real is cogent and his evidence is elegant.”

The editorial concludes “Religion is deeply etched in human nature and cannot be dismissed as a product of ignorance, indoctrination or stupidity.” This is at least a step in the right direction, but rationally engaging with the counter-arguments against their understanding of the world would be an important next step.

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