Friday, 14 September 2012

Meeting faith halfway - yeah right!

This week the BBC screened a programme called "Rosh Hashanah", in which the UK's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, interviewed three prominent scientists to discuss whether there really has to be antagonism between science and faith.  By the end he claimed that his three victims had met him more than half way.

The views of the scientists on this conclusion were not revealed.  Let's examine why I felt that Sacks was being more than usually - or should I say "much more than usually" - disingenuous.

The whole setting the the 30 minute programme was polished and carefully crafted to show Sacks as a reasonable man who was calm and rational, at peace with his view of the world.  It was equally well crafted to make the three scientists look just slightly uneasy, somewhat flushed and perhaps a little shifty.  That in itself was enough to convince me that the odds were stacked in favour of the rabbi.

Jonathan Sacks, acting like a wolf in sheep's clothing, debating Dawkins, Al-Khalil and Greenfield.
Jonathan Sacks, acting like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Then there was a suggestion of cherry picking from the answers that his interviewees must have given.  I haven't seen any responses from Susan Greenfield, Jim Al-Khalili or Richard Dawkins to claim that they were specifically misrepresented, but somehow I can't imagine that what we saw was exactly what they must have meant.

Taking one example, Sacks asked Dawkins about the 'philosophy of Darwinism' and we heard what appeared to be Dawkins agreeing that it was possible that this could actually lead to Nazism.  Two things were surprising here.  First I know I have heard Dawkins arguing that the two are not causally linked.

Second - what exactly is 'the philosophy of Darwinism'?  Is it implied that scientists or Nazis might be adherents of such a philosophy, even if it existed? Surely it is not a philosophy at all.  Darwin's work has led to a scientific theory and that is all.  There is no way that this implies the requirement for any further human actions.

It seemed to me that Sacks tended to use his language of faith to dress up both sides of the story to make them seem compatible, when we all know that faith only claims that because it recognises the threat from science.  He also used his great rhetorical skill to sidestep the difficult questions like "Do you believe that Abraham literally had Isaac trussed up on an alter?".  Sacks just resorted to typical allegorical answers to avoid answering.  He seemed to claim that the story of Isaac showed that Jewish people care much more for their children much more than anyone else. [Besides that, Jewish parents care so much that they need to cut bits off their precious babies.]  He could only get away with this in any small way by comparing his race with the surrounding races during the bronze age.  I would say that this argument has passed its sell-by date.

Then whenever he admitted that religion had been the cause of suffering in the world he would also point out that science had also caused great problems. 

NO!  This is not the same at all.  Faith has actually CAUSED great evil, very often in its own name.  Science, on the other hand, has only enabled greater evils than previously possible to be committed by people of any faith or none.  His apparently reasonable argument of equality is palpably fallacious.

This programme is just another case of BBC accommodationalism for the usual reasons.

It would be interesting to hear the views of a few people of faith, if they managed to see it. 

One good thing came out of it though.  A Muslim colleague told me today that until he watched this programme he hadn't realised what a reasonable man Richard Dawkins appears to be.

 That's something, at least!

1 comment:

Gene said...

". . . this argument has passed its sell-by date."

Hah! I really like that one.