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Monday, 15 February 2010

On science, religion and atheism

Are Science and Atheism incompatible? Interesting comment by Andrew Brown in the Guardian "Comment is Free'. He notes that the human sciences challenge a lot of beliefs held by atheists and his quick survey on the sociology and psychology of religion is an interesting though contestable take on the factors bearing on the survival of religion.

His closing paragraphs throw an interesting light on the current problems faced by scientists in communicating an account of their conclusions and reasoning in the face of populist dismissal on the issues surrounding climate change a n issue that they share with religion - the problem of demonstrating a trustworthy authority.

Nor has the decline of religious belief, in those countries where it has declined, resulted in a growth of scientific knowledge. If anything, the two have declined together. This is distressing for the atheists who believe that science and religion are natural enemies, contending for our hearts and understandings, but it makes perfect sense. Some religious doctrines are untrue, but when you abolish them, you need not thereby add to the world's stock of truth. You could just add to the variety of its lies. 

Science and organised traditional religion have to some extent the same enemies. Both rely for their influence on society on trust in authority and that is rapidly eroding. This is obvious in the case of religion, but we can see from the progress of climate change denialism how helpless scientists are against the same kind of jeering and suspicious anti-intellectualism that some of them direct at religion.

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