During Pope Benedict’s recent visit to Britain, relations between science and religion have been brought into focus.
“Never allow yourselves to become narrow. The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world.”
These are the words of the Pope as he expressed his views during his recent visit to the UK. However, they will be seen by some as an olive branch to a vocal community of scientists and sceptics who have opposed this visit.
In a letter to the Guardian this week, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and a host of other scientists, personalities and academics rejected the ‘masquerading of the Holy See as a state’ and argued that the Pope should not be entitled to a state visit given the Vatican’s history on a range of issues including a ban on condoms, abortion and it’s failures on child protection.
Speaking at a ‘Protest the Pope’ rally on Saturday, Richard Dawkins accused the Pope of comparing atheism to Hitlerism. “How dare Ratzinger suggest that atheism has any connection whatsoever with their (Hitler and Stalin) horrific deeds,” he said.
Calling ‘Pope Ratzinger’ an enemy of humanity, education and science, Dawkins said he was “obstructing vital stem cell research on grounds, not of true morality, but of pre-scientific superstition.”
The Pope had earlier commented on the origins of the universe when he said that science, although providing “invaluable understanding” of some parts of universe, “cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart” and “cannot fully explain to us our origin and our destiny.”
This is seen by some as a rebuttal of Stephen Hawking’s latest views that the laws of physics and not God created the universe. In The Grand Design the physicist writes: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”
Many will see this facing off between the figureheads of science and religion as needless posturing. There are a number of serious global problems that will require a pastoral as well as a scientific response.
For example, the area of climate change and environmental protection can benefit from a joint response. Last year, former US president and climate change activist Al Gore stressed that “simply laying out the facts won’t work” and that we must appeal to people’s moral and religious duty to protect the planet.
Undoubtedly there are areas where science and religion differ. However, it is also clear that both have the potential to be forces for good in the world. Perhaps a joint approach on important topics such as climate change and supporting the world’s poorest communities, a useful dialogue can develop. This current posturing from both sides is doing nobody any good.
Featured image credit: Jeffrey Bruno via Shutterstock
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