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Imagine There's No Heaven

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posted on Nov, 26 2007 @ 02:11 AM
I very recently had a chance to read an old copy of New Scientist magazine and would like to share it. Its good food for thought IMHO.

Imagine There's No Heaven
by: Mary Midgley

Richard Dawkins wants to live in a world without religion because he holds it repsonsible for the world's greatest atrocitities. While Dawkins is clearly sincere, he is labouring under a flawed ideology of his own, says Mary Midgley.

THIS book is one of many that celebrate an allegedly bitter war between Science and Religion, two epic figures representing rival forces between which we must choose.

Different people understand this "war" differently. In the US, the default attitude (that of normal people) is increasingly assumed to be religion, because scientific or Darwinian world view is still taken to mean social Darwinism, the brash, brutak dictrine of the survival of the fittest that Herbert Spencer taught so successfully in the US and which deeply influenced the Nazis. In recent times the sociobiological rhetoric of "selfishness" and "ruthlessness" in natural selection has served to reinforce this impression of meaningless brutality, leaving religion as the only tolerable option.

In the Middle East, however, talk of a scientific or Darwinian attitude stands for something different but no less hateful. It means primarily western materialism: the brash, greddy, uncaring lifestyle of people whose rulers trampled over oriental cultures and who trample them with increasing vigour today. Traditional religion appears the only alternative to this odious attitude.

Thus, once the scene is polarised, once the two vast abstractions are set up, their ideologies turn the debate into incurable conflict. In that spirit, the preface of this book cries out for the abolition of the enemy: "Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no crusades, no gunpowder plot....."

These examples are, of course, endless, and the thought that removing religion would end such large scale atrocities accounts in large part for the rise of anti-religious movements. Howeverm the regimes they gave birth to during the 20th century included the governments of Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia and Stalin's Russia. It is not clear how it was possible for these regimes to commit the three most monstrous crimes of the epoch, but what does emerge is that removing religion had not helped at all The roots of great crimes plainlly lie deeper than the doctrines people use to justify them.
*****WA's note: No that is NOT a apologist stance, unless aplogy took some new strange meaning I don't know*****

In any culture, rogues defend their actions by professing whatever standards their society respects. Until recently, of course, Christianity was the norm in the west, but Marxism and fascism proved jsut as effective. Science, too, it turns out, can easily be used this way, as both Germany's and South Africa's justification of racism demonstrates.Religion is not really relevant at all, unless we carefully define "religion" to link it necessarily with atrocities.

This. of course, is the tendency of Dawkin's book. Dawkins is no rogue though: indeed, he is sincere in regarding God and religion the enemies of rationality-- and in arguing that they are linked to atrocity to such an extent that they must be resisted. So mush so that he is forced to assert that faiths which do not use the concept of God, such as Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism, are not really religions at all.
****WA's note: Can we say playing cut and paste with the facts so you can get the result you wanted when you started?****
He also works hard to exclude scientists, such as Einstein, who firmly and repeatedly used religious langauge to express what are plainly central elements in their thought, from taint of religion.

Dawkins is irritated by the Einstein phenomenon, and complains of a "confused and confusing willingness to label as 'religion' the pantheistic reverence which many of us share with its most distinguished exponent, Albert Einstein". He insists that thus reverence has "no connection with supernatural belief". Pantheism, however, is unmistakably a religious attitude. And when, like Einstein you speak of an immanent god, a divinity pervaiding the world, and when like Spinoza, you equate God and Nature, words such as "supernatural" do not mean much.

Einstein understood this well. His langauge is only suprising if you assume, as Dawkins seems to, that science is the only possible source of knowledge. Thus quoting Martin Rees's remark that such questions as why anything exists lie "beyond science", he simply cannot see what this might mean.

Similarly, when he cites NOMA-- "nonoverlapping magisteria", the acronym coined by Stephen Jay Gould to describe how, in his view , science and religion could not comment on each other's sphere-- and Freeman Dyson's description of himself as "one of the multitudfe of Christians who do not care much for the doctrine of the trinity ot the historical thruth of the gospels", Dawkins declares flatly that they cannot mean what they say. ****WA's note: Sounds like wishful thinking on dawkies part*** As scientistsm they must be atheists.

It seems not to have struck Dawkins that academic science is only a small, specialized, dependent part of what anybody knows.
Most human knowledge is tacit knowledge – habitual assumptions, constantly updated and checked by experience, but far too general and informal ever to be fully tested. We assume, for instance, that nature will go on being regular, that other people are conscious and that their testimony can generally be trusted. Without such assumptions neither science nor any other study could ever get off the ground, and nor could everyday life.

When we build on these foundations we necessarily use imaginative structures – powerful ideas which can be called myths, which are not lies, but graphic thought-patterns that shape and guide our thinking. This is not irrational: the process of using these structures is a necessary preparation for reasoning. Thus the selfish gene is a powerful idea, so are the Science-Religion war, Gaia, natural selection, progress, and the hidden hand of the market.

[edit on 26-11-2007 by WraothAscendant]

[edit on 26-11-2007 by WraothAscendant]

posted on Nov, 26 2007 @ 02:16 AM
***Continued from above***

With the largest, most puzzling questions, we have no choice but to proceed in mythical language which cannot be explained in detail at all, but which serves to indicate what sort of spiritual universe we percieve ourselves to be living in. This is the province of religion. Adding God is not, as Dawkins thinks, adding an illicit extra item to the cosmos, it is perceiving the whole thing differently.

For a long time, this kind of language was reasonably well understood. Since the mid-19th century, however, there has been a disastrous attempt to get rid of it, keeping only literal statements of fact. This is, of course, the root of religious fundamentalism, which tries, absurdly, to treat the whole of that strange compilation, the Bible, as literal fact. Yet in so doing it is only responding to a less obvious fundamentalism on the scientistic side, which claims that our knowledge reduces to one fundamental form – the literal statements of science. Both extremes show a similarly crass refusal to admit the complexity of life.

Dawkins is, of course, quite right to express horror at Biblical fundamentalism, especially in the neocon form that centres on the book of Revelation. But it is not possible to attack this target properly while also conducting a wider, cluster-bomb onslaught on everything that can be called religion. Since this particular bad form of religion is spreading rapidly in the world, we urgently need to understand it: not just to denounce it but to grasp much better than we do now why people find it attractive. It is not enough to say, as Dawkins does, that they are being childish.

We also need to ask why they have found the other attitudes that are open to them inadequate. As I have suggested, this means becoming more aware of the inadequacies of our own way of life, which are obvious to them and which put them off the opinions that we profess. What we need, in fact, is a bit more self-knowledge.”

[edit on 26-11-2007 by WraothAscendant]

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