Monday, April 11, 2005

Time to Stand up

Richard Dawkins, a Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University in his excellent collection of essays on hope, life science and love quotes a fellow scientist Douglas Adams on religion. The following paragraph, by the late Douglas Adams, exacerbates my views on futility of religion in our daily lives:

"Now, the invention of the scientific method is I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day, and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that. It has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? – because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down, you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that.’

The odd thing is, even as I am saying that I am thinking, ‘Is there an Orthodox Jew here who is going to be offended by the fact that I have said that?’ But I wouldn’t have thought ‘Maybe there’s somebody from the left wing or somebody from the right wing who subscribes to this view or the other in economics’ when I was making the other points. I just think, ‘Fine, we have different opinions’. But the moment I say something that has to do with somebody’s (I’m going to stick my neck out here and say irrational) beliefs, then we all become terribly protective and terribly defensive and say, ‘No, we don’t attack that; that’s an irrational belief but no, we respect it.’

Why should it be that its perfectly legitimate to support the Labor party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows – but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the, that’s holy ? What does that mean ? Why do we ring-fence that for any other reason other than we’ve just got used to doing so ? There’s no other reason at all, it’s just one of those things that crept into being and once that loop gets going its very, very powerful. So, we are used to not challenging religious ideas, but its interesting how much of a furor Richard creates when de does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”

Just about everything that I believe about religion and all that mumbo jumbo. Agnostics of the world unite. Its time to stand up and be counted. More on this topic later. Watch this space.


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