I don’t feel like writing this, and I am sure most people won’t want to read it either, but that’s ok. I am going to write it anyway in the hope of finishing a thought, one that’s been hanging around taking up mental space for days. What will probably happen is that it will just lead to another thought or three. Are we ever really done thinking? Really? I think that we’re not, and that’s why meditative practice is essential, just as a brief intervention to stop all those cogs and wheels that constantly whir away wearing themselves out. For years I have ‘meditated’ over a glass of wine, I know others take a moment with a cigarette, but I am realising finally that still, quiet calm is the goal, not slamming on the mental brakes with a depressant. Having said that, I realise that alcohol for me sometimes stands in for my lack of religion and will probably always be with me… my drug of lazy choice one might say.
Back to the thought. I was following the science and religion discourse last week through Jonathan (Chief Rabbi) Sacks’, recent round of media publicity linked to a book he has out. He and Professor Richard Dawkins appear to have been more or less joined at the hip in the last week, appearing on television, on radio and then midweek in a live discussion at a BBC Festival called REthink. It would seem that Professor Dawkins also has a book out too.
I think I find this a little disappointing, as if the public is only being treated to a clash between these two old stags high up on the intellectual crags because they both have book publicity to do. For the record, Lord Sacks’ book is called The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning and Professor Dawkins’ is called the Magic of Reality. I also found the discourse frustrating, because it seems to me that it is ultimately circular in nature.
I am happy to be corrected but what I think I hear is something that goes like this: Yes, we all agree that science works on theory backed up by empirical evidence; and at this point in time there is less than there was, but still plenty in the world, in the universe, in the human experience that has so far defied the reach of science. That was where faith in a God might kick in, if you were that way inclined. Or not. To paraphrase, or even quote, Lord Sacks, ‘science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean.’
So the scientists who seek to explain things up to the point of their evidence-based knowledge are permanently left on the back foot when a religious bod hops in, where the rest of us might fear to tread, to cover the gaps with the all-encompassing reach of a ‘God’, an intelligent designer, a universal force.
Sacks suggested he was not a fan of this ‘God of the Gaps’ approach, he said that his God is a gardener. When he was asked by a scientist something to the effect of is his God a sower of seeds that then allowed the garden to go wild, or an obsessive Sunday lawn mower, Sacks’ answer was inconclusive. He said something about God being currently ‘non-interventionist’. God as a gardener on holiday, a multiverse cruise?
I am agnostic, I suppose. I am not quite brave enough for atheism. Perhaps I aspire to it. I have found the religious position frustrating though, because what can’t be answered directly out of their various interpretations of the various religious books, can always be attributed to the mystery of God and the faith in that of those lucky enough to have worked it all out.
When Lord Sacks ended the Start the Week programme by intoning, ‘Without God we are without hope’ I felt he diminished his argument, possibly irredeemably in my case. I was disappointed because I believe there are alternatives. What really would have helped is for a religious scientist, Sir Robert Winston say, to have jumped in and saved a fascinating question, perhaps the most important of all, from turning those of us trying to engage with the debate into something akin to testy drivers queueing round the circular M25 into infinity (and beyond?).