Monday, July 19, 2010

Francisco Ayala, Distinguished Scientist, on Science and Religion

Francisco Ayala is a distinguished scientist and thinker, who left religious life to pursue science. His views on science and religion are worth hearing.

Kudos to Reason.TV for venturing beyond pure political philosophy and policy.

I can't help but take this opportunity to contrast the rather gentle Ayala with someone like Richard Dawkins, whose intellect I greatly respect, but not his manners. Ayala and Dawkins agree on some things in fact.

But one of Dawkins' greatest failings is toward his own stated objectives. He tries to accomplish several things with only one shotgun approach.

While he rightly challenges superstition and persecution of atheists with vigor, his own acid intolerance of religion and religious people undercuts the objective of his foundation, which is to "[s]upport the scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and human suffering."

(Philosophical note: Dawkins goes beyond "methodological naturalism" which many scientists practice, including Ayala -- meaning not injecting God into a scientific inquiry ("creation science") so as to poison it -- to assert the non-existence of God. This is known as "metaphysical naturalism," and is not a scientific position, but a metaphysical one.)

Why should one embrace a life of science and reason if it means acting like Richard Dawkins all the time? He is not a model of reason himself. At least not in anything other than the classroom or laboratory practice of science. Where is the element of "humanity" and "meaning" in his approach? Is that part of reason? Scientific or otherwise? Perhaps, as Ayala notes, these are the purview of religion? Perish the thought . . .

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