Monday, September 27, 2010

Martin Rees Explains Accommodationism

 
Martin Rees is the President of the Royal Society in the UK. This is a position of enormous influence. When Rees speaks you can assume that he is representing the position of the Royal Society, or at least it's leaders.

Martin Rees was recently interviewed by The Independent [Martin Rees: 'We shouldn't attach any weight to what Hawking says about god'].
He is equally scathing about Hawking's more recent comments about there being no need for God in order to explain creation. "Stephen Hawking is a remarkable person whom I've know for 40 years and for that reason any oracular statement he makes gets exaggerated publicity. I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read very little philosophy and even less theology, so I don't think we should attach any weight to his views on this topic," he said.

Unlike many of the Fellows of the Royal Society he has presided over in the past five years, Lord Rees is not a militant atheist who goes out of his way to insult people of belief – Richard Dawkins once called him "a compliant quisling" for his tolerance of religion.

"I would support peaceful co-existence between religion and science because they concern different domains," Lord Rees said. "Anyone who takes theology seriously knows that it's not a matter of using it to explain things that scientists are mystified by."

His next popular science book is about these things that science still cannot explain, such as the origin of life on Earth and the scientific nature of human consciousness. This, he insisted, is what science is really about, and why it has the power to touch everyone of every culture.
I don't have time for a detailed explanation of this particular accommodationist position so I'll just note a few points.
  • Hawking said there's no need for God but his views can be dismissed because (unlike Martin Rees?) he's not an expert on philosophy and theology.

  • Rees does not go out of his way to insult people of belief. Good for him. Neither do lots of atheists, including Stephen Hawking. What's the point? Sounds to me like Dawkins might have been correct.

  • Did Martin Rees just go out of his way to insult atheists like Stephen Hawking? I guess atheists don't deserve the same kid-gloves treatment that we owe to theists.

  • Religion and science concern different domains. So they do. Religion is firmly planted in the domain of mythology and superstition. What does that prove?

  • Martin Rees is an astronomer. He's writing a book about the origin of life and human consciousness. I wonder if we should bother paying any attention to this book since he's not an expert in biology?


[Photo Credit: BBC]

12 comments :

  1. Hawking said there's no need for God but his views can be dismissed because (unlike Martin Rees?) he's not an expert on philosophy and theology

    I naively assume that all he needs is a physics and cosmology background to say that God is not needed in physics or cosmology. Silly me! No doubt we should ask theologians and philosophers if God is necessary to explain the weather and why planes can fly.

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  2. According to my dictionary theology is "1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions, esp. those posed by an organized religion. 2. An organized, often formalized body of opinions concerning God and man's relationship to God."

    So, if I hear Rees correctly, Hawking is ignorant of the nature of God and does not hold to the opinions of a particular religious group. And how is this a bad thing? It is as if Rees is criticizing Hawking for not being a cleric. Using the same sort of "logic" the pope has no right to have an opinion on cosmology or genetics because he has no formal training in these subjects. God is an unproven hypothesis (I prefer to call it a wild guess) and if Hawking sees no need to invoke a god to explain the universe I'll take his opinion over that of a priest any day.

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    1. Don't be foolish. Reese didn't say that Hawking didn't have the "right" to have an opinion on God. Reese only said that Hawking was a layman in the studies of philosophy and theology. God cannot be tested by the scientific method. Reese was wise enough to realize that. You people who attack other atheists like Reese for being honest give other atheists a bad name. Shut up and grow up. :) <smiley

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  3. His next popular science book is about… the origin of life on Earth and the scientific nature of human consciousness. This, he insisted, is what science is really about…

    What, then, if (when) science answers the questions of the origin of life and nature of consciousness and concludes that there's no need to invoke god or souls. Unless the scientists who publish this finding hold theology degrees, should we discount it?

    Besides, in what way are the origins of life and consciousness "scientific" questions and the origin of the universe not?

    What a pillock.

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  4. "Stephen Hawking is a remarkable person whom I've know for 40 years and for that reason any oracular statement he makes gets exaggerated publicity."

    Crikey, what an ego! Hawking's statements get all that publicity because he has known Martin Rees for 40 years.

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  5. "When it comes to big questions...."

    We are having this debate because people tend to think that Religion is included in "big questions". I get annoyed every time I come across of this thinking. Religion turned a non-question the day "Evolution" became a reality. Any attempt to raise Religion and God to the level of "questions" should naturally occurs unscientific to people like Lord Rees. Also, normally one shouldn't have to subscribe to atheism if he/she were a scientist already. That is part of being "honest scientist".

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  6. Previous commentators are hitting my thoughts...

    The old canard is that science deals with "what" and "how", while religion deals with things like meaning and purpose.

    The elephant in the room is that believers find their meaning in the explanatory aspects of their religion. Take away the whole concept that God created the universe, that God purposefully designed human beings, that our consciousness can be explained solely by material means, that there are rational explanations for our "spiritual" experiences, and what is religion left with? Sam Harris was right: religion is a failed science.

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  7. I'm a bit worried about his book.

    It could be okay if he really does his research or has good proxies for the biology parts, but some physicists have had a bad track record, especially when they decide to go for "quantum mind" claptrap and ignore what neurobiologists have to say.

    Hawking has made a few biology mistakes, but he's the son of a biology researcher and I've seen him get elementary biology correct.

    Carl Sagan managed as well.

    I hope that Rees would tread lightly in on the biology side; I don't know whether the Royal Society would be very polite about easily avoidable gaffes or unsupported assertions.

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  8. Rees' problem is that he doesn't understand: there is no defensible reason to take theology seriously.

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  9. Michael Ruse says basically the same thing to say at Biologos today - even telling everyone "buy my book."

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  10. Crikey, what an ego! Hawking's statements get all that publicity because he has known Martin Rees for 40 years.

    Hah! But in all seriousness, I think Rees meant to say that Hawking gets publicity for being a remarkable person, but muddied up his intended meaning by inserting an awkward aside about how long he's known the man. Rees, after all, is not an English professor, and per his own reasoning, his English should not be taken too seriously.

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  11. So,if Stephen Hawking said that unicorns or fairies didn't exist, he would be dismissed for not being an expert on "unicornology" or "fairy studies"?

    FAIL.

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