Cambridge science don ticks off the teen rebels

06 March 2008

by Bill Bowder

SCIENCE has not made religion redundant, the Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge, Professor Denis Alexander, told scientists at a public lecture at the University of St Andrews last week.

Professor Alexander, who edits the Journal of Science and Christian Belief, was giving one of the James Gregory Lectures. Many scientists, he said, were like stroppy teenagers who wanted to reject their parents, and had forgotten that science had been formed in the womb of theology.

Science could not prove scientifically that it was the only true source of knowledge. It could not explain why the universe was explicable, or why matter behaved in the same way from one week to the next. It also had to take on trust that the human mind was rational enough to have a true understanding of the universe.

This trust, the “faith” of the scientist, was “rooted in the Christian world-views of the founders of our modern scientific disciplines”, he said.

“It turns out that the Christian world-view was very important for nurturing the key assumptions that make science possible. This has raised the question as to whether the scientific enterprise can be sustained in the long term without those metaphysical underpinnings that nurtured its emergence.”

He dismissed critics such as Richard Dawkins, who said that Christians took refuge in a “God of the gaps” to explain unanswered scientific questions. Christians had no time for that “very poor type of argument”, he said. He also accused Professor Dawkins of being “eccentric” in believing that every living object’s sole reason for living was to reproduce its own DNA.

There were many reasons for living, and the religious believer said the most important one was “the question of ultimate purpose and meaning — the religious question”.

“Science achieves clarity only at the price of looking away from layers of nature available to other kinds of experience,” he said.

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