We all know that asking questions is important. Asking the right questions is at the heart of most intellectual activity. Questions must be encouraged. We all know this. But are there any questions which may not be asked? Questions which should not be asked? Although many a young undergraduate might initially say “no: never! All questions must be encouraged!” I think most thoughtful people will realise there is a little more to it than that.
You can find much discussion of the concept of faith in the talks and books in the resources section of this blog. Here I will say some more about the roles of faith and reason.
Reason is about being receptive to persuasion, and honest enough to follow a sequence of steps where the connections can be shown and seen.
Faith is essentially a kind of willingness combined with a sense of value.
This post is mainly to announce that I have now added a further talk to the resources section. You can find it here:
Here is an extract from the talk:
Here is a letter that was published in New Scientist magazine about two months ago.
“I was intrigued by your claim that science is not a belief system (4 April, p.5). Surely what it is not is a faith system. Science is belief based on evidence: faith, on the other hand, is belief irrespective of evidence.
“Science gives rise to beliefs that fit the existing evidence, allowing for them to change should new evidence make that sensible.
“Faith takes beliefs and puts them on an untouchable pedestal where they remain, no matter what contradictory evidence there is.
“Most of us frequently employ a fairly scientific belief system. Take the simple example of the day of the week. When I woke up this morning, I believed it to be Thursday, based on the evidence of my memory. Had I then looked at my computer, my phone and a newspaper and seen that day given as Friday, I would have changed my belief, trusting the evidence of the computer, phone and newspaper over my memory. However, if I applied a faith-based belief system, I would have refused to take note of the contrary evidence and insisted that the day was Thursday, no matter what.
“It is lack of faith, not lack of belief, that makes science so special and so wonderful.”
Kate Szell, London, UK
This post is about biological evolution, and about the abuse of education and the abuse of the public promotion of science.
The above image by James Woodend, UK can be found at Images Inspired by Nature. It is the winning image in the Royal Observatory’s annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year award, 2014, in the category Earth and Space.
This week’s entry got delayed by the beginning of Oxford term and some other writing commitments; apologies about that. Also, this is a week in which people have been much concerned with issues surrounding freedom of speech and its violent opponents. A brave champion of human rights that I would like to mention is Raif Badawi, now a prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia and subject to barbaric and unjust forms of “punishment” for actions that, as far as I can tell, were in fact balanced and truthful.
How to write a blog about science and religion in a world where things like this are going on?
How much we all need to champion reason and rationality, along with all the other components of a full and grown-up humanity!
This essay, as I said in my previous blog post, is about the fact that reason and rationality are not alternatives to trust in the “Father” spoken of by Jesus of Nazareth, but, on the contrary, they are its partners. They are championed by such faith.
The reputation of the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas (1913-2000), already strong in his own lifetime, has been rising since. He was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964, and in 1996 the prestigious Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature and the Horst Bienek Prize for Poetry. He is a major poet of the twentieth century, and one of the finest religious poets in the English language.
I am not an expert on Thomas, but I have read the biography by Byron Rogers (The Man Who Went Into the West: The Life of R.S.Thomas, Aurum Press Ltd), I have read a lot of the poems, and I have read various essays on the man and his work. My chief claim to some sort of right to comment is that I feel a lot of affinity for what is going on in his poetry. Seamus Heaney once remarked that “the only reliable source” for teaching about a given poem was “the experience of having felt the poem come home, memorably and irrefutably”. 
The New Mariner
In the silence
that is his chosen medium
of communication and telling
others about it
in words. Is there no way
not to be the sport
of reason? For me now
there is only the God-space
into which I send out
my probes. I had looked forward
to old age as a time
of quietness, a time to draw
my horizons about me,
to watch memories ripening
in the sunlight of a walled garden.
But there is the void
over my head and the distance
within that the tireless signals
come from. An astronaut
on impossible journeys
to the far side of the self
I return with the messages
I cannot decipher, garrulous
about them, worrying the ear
of the passer-by, hot on his way
to the marriage of plain fact with plain fact.
This poem by R. S. Thomas was originally published in Between Here and Now (1981) and can be found in Collected Poems: 1945-1990, R. S. Thomas.
Gregor (Johann) Mendel
There seems to be a bit of a tussle going on over who can lay claim to the work of Gregor Mendel, the Augustinian monk who pioneered the quantitative study of inheritance and thus genetics. Was he a religious man doing good scientific work, an example of the fact that the two not only go together, but the former can promote the latter? Or was he a deist, perhaps a closet atheist, making a pragmatic choice to go along with some irksome religious constraints in order to gain the leisure to practice science without any genuine recognition of the role of prayer, or of the leadership shown by Jesus of Nazareth? For example, in his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins (writing a brief statement on this) chose to say