If the Sea of Faith is receding, the tide of secularism is most certainly rising and is now swamping Christians (and let us be quite clear that they are the chief target) out of public life and the public domain. And we are doing very little about it.
Normally I find articles by George Pitcher, the religious correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, deeply irritating (sorry George, but there it is). But in his comments on this story, he is surely spot on. Specifically, as he points out, because "I'm a creationist ... should be the most natural thing for a person of Christian faith to say."
We are, indeed, all creationists, insofar as, in Pitcher's words, we "believe in a purpose to the human story, a meta-narrative to history ... or a journey to understand the mind of God", or, in more practical terms, if in some sense we mean what we say every time we recite the Apostles' or the Nicene Creeds.
In this respect it is bizarre to see the opprobrium being gleefully heaped on Professor Reiss's suggestion by some on the Thinking Anglicans forum. Surely the right response, if we don't believe in one understanding of Genesis (a physical six-day creation), should nevertheless be to think through what we can and should understand, both about Genesis and about the world in which we live. (That, I would hope, is what a thinking Anglican would always aim to do.)
But if every Christian should say, "I'm a creationist", then every Christian must now also stand up and say, "I am Reiss". Professor Richard Dawkins has now back-tracked on the scorn he originally directed towards Professor Reiss. Nevertheless, he stands by his view that Reiss's post is an unsuitable job for a clergyman:
Perhaps I was a little uncharitable to liken the appointment of a vicar as the Royal Society's Education Director to a Monty Python sketch. Nevertheless, thoughts of Trojan Horses are now disturbing many Fellows, already concerned as they are by the signals the Society recently sent out through its flirtation with the infamous Templeton Foundation.But if that post is deemed inappropriate, to what other posts might the same rules begin to apply? As George Pitcher writes,
... if it is to be consistent, the Royal Society will immediately fire off a letter to this newspaper's editor, demanding my dismissal. Heavens above, a child might read this column and have its mind poisoned.Worst of all, of course, is the problem of parenting. What if parents suggest to their children that creation was, well, created? Does that render them unsuitable for the post? The fact is that there are those, serious thinkers and their less thoughtful followers, who firmly believe it does. This is what Nicholas Humphrey, another convinced Darwinian, and by his own account, a social Liberal said in a speech to the Oxford branch of Amnesty International:
Freedom of speech is too precious a freedom to be meddled with. [...] And, since I am so sure of this in general, and since I’d expect most of you to be so too, I shall probably shock you when I say it is the purpose of my lecture tonight to argue ... in favour of censorship, against freedom of expression, and to do so moreover in an area of life that has traditionally been regarded as sacrosanct. I am talking about moral and religious education. And especially the education a child receives at home, where parents are allowed – even expected – to determine for their children what counts as truth and falsehood, right and wrong.To think that such views could be expressed in Oxford, England, at a meeting of a body ostensibly dedicated to supporting liberty! Yet anyone who imagines that a society based on what it regards as 'rigorously enlightened' principles would not take people's children away from them simply because of what they, as parents, believe, has no understanding of either history or human nature.
Natural Science, properly understood andvigorously applied, is objective in its approach. Scientists are not. Scientists are human beings, and therefore capable of ignorance, bigotry, vindictiveness and error. (Indeed, the history of science shows that they are also capable of envy within their field and even cheating with their results.)
Moreover, our wider society is full of people who are not scientists, but who are happy to hear what scientists have to say when they are attacking religion (which is one thing) and religious people (which is quite another). Richard Dawkins wants the Royal Society Royal "to attack creationism with all fists flying". For him this is no doubt metaphor, but it is a metaphor undergirded by subjective emotion, not just objective, 'scientific', analysis.
Certainly this morning every intolerant 'scientist' will feel that bit more confident about putting in the boot (or the flying fist). After all, if your opponent's job is on the line, you do have a certain advantage in arguments at work. By contrast, every believer, and certainly every Christian believer, will be that bit less confident about speaking up.
The worry is that many of the intelligentsia in this country evidently feel that is a good thing.
You can read the Royal Society's statement here.
and you can e-mail them here.
18 September 2008
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