Some good quotations on science and religion

Some good quotations on science and religion January 7, 2018


And maybe a robot, to fix the Middle East
A team of Australian scientists researching basic moral principles and the meaning of life  (Wikimedia Commons)


Some additional quotations from Alister E. McGrath, Surprised by Meaning: Science, Faith, and How We Make Sense of Things (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).


From pages 4-5:

The intellectual vitality of the natural sciences lies in their being able to say something without having to say everything.  Science simply cannot answer questions about the meaning of life and should not be expected — still less, forced — to do so.  To demand that science answer questions that lie beyond its sphere of competence is potentially to bring it into disrepute.  These questions are metaphysical, not empirical.  Sir Peter Medawar (1915-87), a cool-headed scientific rationalist who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work on immunology, insists that the limits of science must be identified and respected.  Otherwise, he argues, science will fall into disrespect, having been abused and exploited by those with ideological agendas.  There are important transcendental questions “that science cannot answer, and that no conceivable advance of science would empower it to answer.” . . .  Richard Dawkins is surely right when he declares that “science has no methods for deciding what is ethical.”


Cited on page 38:

The one act of faith in the convert to science, is the confession of the universality of order and of the absolute validity in all times and under all circumstances, of the law of causation.  This confession is an act of faith, because, by the nature of the case, the truth of such propositions is not susceptible of proof.

T. H. Huxley, in Charles Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin, 3rd ed., 3 vols. (London: John Murray, 1887), 2:200


Cited on page 39, from the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955):

Scientific truth is characterized by its exactness and the certainty of its predictions.  But these admirable qualities are contrived by science at the cost of remaining on a plane of secondary problems, leaving intact the ultimate and decisive questions.

José Ortega y Gasset, History as a System and Other Essays toward a Philosophy of History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1962), ca. 13


On page 8, McGrath himself:

In his brilliantly argued critique of the “New Atheism,” the leading British cultural critic Terry Eagleton ridicules those who think religion was invented to explain things.  Eagleton has in mind the faintly ludicrous overstatements of Christopher Hitchens on this matter, such as his brash assertion that, since the invention of the telescope and microscope, religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important.”  “Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place,” Eagleton retorts.  “It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster, we can forget about Chekhov.”  For Eagleton, believing that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world” is on the same intellectual level as “seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.”


Famously, by the way, Eagleton — who, as far as I’m aware, isn’t himself a religious believer but who, interestingly, taught a two-week faculty seminar at Brigham Young University a number of years ago in which I was a participant — mocked Richard Dawkins for his ignorance of serious religious thinking and scholarship, observing that reading Dawkins on theology was rather like reading a writer on ornithology whose only acquaintance with the subject had come from glancing at The Book of British Birds.



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