Rees on Religion

April 6, 2011

Bit of a Twitter Buzz this morning about Martin Rees winning the Templeton Prize. For those who don’t know, the Templeton Foundation is an organisation founded by billionaire John Templeton, to encourage open minded and progressive thinking in religion. In the 1980s they also started funding science, where they felt there was some philosophical (not necessarily directly religious) interest. Most interestingly, in 2006 they gave nine million dollars to help found the Foundational Questions Institute, led by by some well known astronomers and physicists.  Some scientists are clearly nervous about the Templeton Foundation, and others are relaxed, as described in this Nature News article.

Martin gave an interview to the Guardian about his reaction to the prize, and the relation between science and religion. Its the sanest thing I have read in ages. Briefly, his attitude is (a) I don’t believe in God. (b) I sometimes go to Church for cultural and work reasons. (c) Relax. Science and religion are disjoint activities. Pretty much like science and music. (d) We need to encourage progressive attitudes in religion, rather than setting up science in opposition.

Dawkins has called Rees a “compliant quisling“. Martin kinda brushed this off, but I have to say I’m with the Astronomer Royal on this.

A little while back I wrote about the Martin Gaskell affair, and was shocked at the level of crudeness and vitriol on the Pharyngula blog. Who needs religious fascism when we atheists can be just as vicious and unreasonable? I do realise that the perspective is rather different in the USA, where it is much more tempting to feel embattled. But it still doesn’t feel right.

Religion ain’t disappearing any time soon. If religion causes a lot of our problems, the sane solution is to encourage better religion, and encourage people to feel they can have their God and Darwin too, as Martin says.

Finally, while we are doing a bit of Rees worship, I just loved his closing quote from Hobbes : “There can be no contentment but in proceeding”

Course, Robert Zimmerman said it better

The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keeping on
Like a bird that flew
Tangle up in Blue