Sunday, September 14, 2008

The sound of clashing ideologies

I enjoyed preaching about the great CERN experiment this morning, celebrating its success, not just in scientific and technical terms, but as a huge enterprise in human collaboration and communication. I had to discipline myself not to be indulgent in reminiscing about the Pays de Gex, under which the LHC has been constructed - the bike rides across the border, the patisserie and baker's shop just across the frontier from Collex-Bossey, the outstanding village restaurant, the Auberge de Cessy where we went for special family celebrations when the children came over to visit, shopping at the giant hypermarket which kept changing name and ownership, the trips up the Col de la Faucille to ski, and escape the low winter cloud - which you just can't do in sea-level Cardiff. A wonderful part of the world to live. Too expensive to retire too unfortunately. How I still love and miss it.

I had difficulty initially linking the Sunday scripture readings to my enthusing about the CERN project, until I realised that the Epistle and the Gospel concerned Christian 'schooling' in human relationships, and how much the spread and acceptance of basic moral values and attitudes made it possible for people to live and work together with all their differences. This relied on the spread of Christian faith through education in so many part of the world, training people how to start overcoming their differences in order to work together for the common good, through respect, responsibility and the disciplined use of freedom. There are many paths to achievement, many techniques for ensuring the best possible outcome to collaboration. The depend upon a strong formation of moral and spiritual attitudes based upon honesty, trust, respect, forgiveness and compassion. The alternative is tyranny and force. I see the danger that this moral foundation can be eroded by evangelical' assertion of the superiority of post Enlightenment secular atheistic humanism, as the norm a this hi-tech scientific age.

The Revd Professor Martin Reiss is the Royal Society's Education Officer, currently under attack and called upon to resign because he dared to suggest that school teaching about science should not exclude study of creationism as representative of a non-scientific world view. See reports here and here. It's not that he is a creationist, but that he has recognised that some children from faith backgrounds arrive at science studies with a more or less fully formed creationistic beliefs. These need to be taken and examined seriously as part of enabling students to understand the objectivity and discipline of scientific method, on a different level to that of a religious world view. This is a pastoral approach to science education, starting from where students are, refusing to ignore or openly dismiss with contempt whatever ideas they have arrived with, as this can de-motivate them from venturing further in understanding science and the spirit of enquiry properly.

I have some sympathy with his insight, realising how many of the faithful have difficulty in reconciling ideas of God creating the world with Big Bang and evolutionary theory. I have often spent time, perhaps unsuccessfully explaining that these views are complementary and not incompatible. But that is not how some simple believers experience it. They feel their beliefs are under assault from the Dawkinses of this world and cling to them defensively. None of this has ever been a problem for me, perhaps because of the way I discovered scripture, and the way I grew up confonted with a sense of God as utterly beyond nature, with the wonders of creation pointing beyond themselves into the unknowable. I don't know where that came from, though it may have been my mother with her sense of awe and wonder, and my father, always exclaiming 'look, look' - a habit I inherited from him when I became a parent.

No doubt the merchants of contention in the media have made a mountain out of a molehill in order to push 'scientific' anti-religionists into noisy frenzy. What fools they are to let themselves be wound up so, for they come out posturing like anti-clerical bullies from another age, ranting against the threat to scientific objectivity from religious ideological pressure, revealing how hard they find dealing decently with anyone whose approach implicitly questions their own absolutes, wanting to punish and exclude those with different views. It's reminiscent of the old soviet style 'progressive' mindset in dealing with those who disagree - eliminate them. It's a paradox - dogmatism and enforcement from the 'science' corner, and inductive education from the 'religious' corner. Intolerance is a symptom of poor or absent moral and spiritual 'schooling'. A worrying sign of the times.

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