“Ditchkins,” Science, and Religion

“Ditchkins,” Science, and Religion March 20, 2018


Jordan's Wadi Rum
This isn’t actually the surface of Mars, though films have often used it to represent a Martian landscape (most recently, of course, in “The Martian”). It’s Wadi Rum, in southern Jordan. “Lawrence of Arabia” territory. I’m happy to report, on the basis of several personal expeditions to Wadi Rum, that oxygen tanks and protective space suits are not required there. Camels are good, though.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)


We know vastly more about extraterrestrial planets today than we did when I was a kid, roughly back in the thirteenth century:


“Mars’ oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions”




“The Alien Planets of TRAPPIST-1 May Be Too Wet for Life”




It’s pleasant to reflect that we can now openly discuss and believe in something that apparently cost the Dominican friar Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) his life:


“Was Giordano Bruno Burned at the Stake for Believing in Exoplanets?  Most historians say no, but new evidence suggests otherwise”




Some additional notes from the British Marxist literary critic Terry Eagleton’s 2008 Terry Lectures at Yale University, published as Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009):


I suppose that where science and religion come closest for the Christian is not in what they say about the world, but in the act of creative imagination which both projects involve — a creative act which the believer finds the source of in the Holy Spirit.  Scientists like Heisenberg or Schrödinger are supreme imaginative artists, who when it comes to the universe are aware that the elegant and beautiful are more likely to be true than the ugly and misshapen.  From a scientific standpoint, cosmic truth is in the deepest sense a question of style, as Plato, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and John Keats were aware.  And this is at least one sense in which science is thoroughly and properly value-laden.  (7)


[In this context, an article titled “In Search of God’s Perfect Proofs: The mathematicians Günter Ziegler and Martin Aigner have spent the past 20 years collecting some of the most beautiful proofs in mathematics” might be relevant.]


Science is properly atheistic [as a matter of methodology].  Science and theology are for the most part not talking about the same kind of things, any more than orthodontics and literary criticism are.  This is one reason for the grotesque misunderstandings that arise between them.  (9-10)


The difference between science and theology, as I understand it, is one over whether you see the world as a gift or not; and you cannot just resolve this just by inspecting the thing, any more than you can deduce from examining a porcelain vase that it is a wedding present.  (37)


[I]t is scarcely a novel point to claim that for the most part Ditchkins [Ditchkins is Eagleton’s amalgamation of Christoper Hitchens and Richard Dawkins] holds forth on religion in truly shocking ignorance of many of its tenets — a situation I have compared elsewhere to the arrogance of one who regards himself as competent to pronounce on arcane questions of biology on the strength of a passing acquaintance with the British Book of Birds. . . .  As Denys Turner remarks, “It is indeed extraordinary how theologically stuck in their ways some atheists are.”  (49)


Eagleton refers to Daniel Dennett’s commission of


the Ditchkins-like blunder of believing that religion is a botched attempt to explain the world, which is like seeing ballet as a botched attempt to run for a bus.  (50)


It is, in fact, entirely logical that those who see religion as nothing but false consciousness should so often get it wrong, since what profit is to be reaped from the meticulous study of a belief system you hold to be as pernicious as it is foolish? . . .  So it is that those who polemicize most ferociously against religion regularly turn out to be the least qualified to do so, rather as many of those who polemicize against literary theory do not hate it because they have read it, but rather do not read it because they hate it.  (51-52)


It’s hard not to be reminded here of the 1957 quip from the Catholic sociologist Thomas O’Dea, that “the Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”



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