On Humanists, Scientists, Chimpanzees and MPs
I have spent perhaps too much time in these blogs arguing theism as the most rational world view with our present understanding of modern Physics. The science broadcaster I most enjoy is Alice Roberts, who from outside my expertise always seems thorough and logical, and her programmes are a joy to watch. She has recently become President of the British Humanist Association, and has started a campaign against the state funding of faith schools. It’s difficult with present attendances to argue against this proposition, apart from noting that it does seem a shame to lose 1500 years of our mainstream culture and to ask if she is sure that’s what people really want. She also says that humanism is the most rational and positive philosophy to life. She must know different people from those I know, including myself! I can see no evidence that the world gets better for our occupation of it. Having watched this week Attenborough’s programme on chimpanzees and the Brexit debate in the Commons, the similarities are too obvious to need spelling out. We are flawed creatures.
Next year, she also becomes President of the British Science Association. I hope in that role she recognises that her views are not shared by many scientists, particularly not physicists who try to understand quantum uncertainty and entanglement, and to reconcile their search for fundamental principles against Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. When the life sciences confront the quantum, their conclusions might not be so certain.
The real challenge to faith doesn’t come from science though, or from the philosophers that science has falsely usurped. I’m a cradle Anglican who still takes comfort from our gentle view of the Christian faith, that there is a judge and there is redemption. One of my favourite Bob Dylan quotes is that the devil runs the world, but God is the judge. These are not sayings to be taken literally; faith is a mix of history and allegory. I probably put more in the latter category than most believers. I’d have preferred it if, in the words of my fictional character Bob Swarbrick in No Precedent,(the midquel to Where’s Sailor Jack? I’ll publish next year): “Luther would have persuaded the Catholic Church to come to its senses over indulgences. James would have banged the heads of Peter, Paul and John together so they didn’t contradict each other quite so much, and lay the structures for two millennia of dispute. Adam would have said to Eve: “Of course we can eat that bloody apple unless it gives us tummy ache. That’s what we’re meant to do.”
Sadly, that’s not the history. But redemption is always possible, even for those dreadful MPs on both sides of the house who are too far up themselves to look for it. Some of the chimpanzees seemed to find it in the Attenborough programme.