Paying unto the new emperors their due

Science directly challenges only theological doctrines, not belief in God. Whether that means that it does or not does not constitute a threat to religion I suppose depends on one’s definition of religion. It’s true that for some people it represents a justification for atheism, like Richard Dawkins, but for others, like John Polkinghorne, it simply means a more intellectual, articulate appreciation of God’s works. There may well be more that drift towards atheism with a growing understanding of scientific theories than go the other direction, but it’s not a question that lends itself, or at least has not lent itself in the past, to objective proof or refutation (except in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, where God’s Final Message to His Creatures is written in huge letters on a cliff face), it ultimately comes mostly comes down to temperament and personal inclination anyway. Some might claim that’s because it’s fundamentally rooted in a simple emotional response to everything which lies beyond the scope of discrete analysis. In any case, the religious impulse can and does take root in any soil imaginable.

Scientific theories ultimately challenge not the idea of God but of previous explanations of divine workings. One can posit a God at the root of a relativistic, quantum universe as well as of a Ptolemaic one, but reconciling it with the story in Genesis is a lot harder. Still, the devoutly religious tend to be teleological, regarding the beliefs that people have as more important than how they arrived at them, whereas scientists at least purport to be procedural, investing value in the scrupulousness with which they investigate before arriving at conclusions, whatever those might be. Interestingly, one of the greatest religious thinkers of the modern era, Kierkegaard, was also somewhat of a proceduralist, although, from the perspective of a rationalist, somewhat perversely. He thought the grandeur of faith arises from the very fact of its resistance to doubt. This may not be a very social view of religion, but it has the distinct advantage of actually being buttressed by intellectual assault. So if the religious took this view of things, not only could they reduce secular thought from the level of a legitimate intellectual challenge to a mere temptation, they could even comfort themselves with the knowledge that its increasing predominance in the world could actually make them better believers. Not a bad result for everyone involved.

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