“New Atheism is falling from grace” The scientist and theologian believes that Galileo’s story has been distorted, and accuses Dawkins of “staining science.”
An interview published in Spain’s El País. by Alister McGrath / El País
This article appeared on the Spanish newspaper El País on 19 March 2016.
Scientist and theologian, professor of Science and Theology in Oxford University, Alister McGrath (Belfast, 1953) holds that investigators go too far when they try to deny God. Science and faith are compatible while one does not interfere in the other, he says.
Question. Has the religious dogmatism not fought against science for centuries?
Answer. Science has always had to fight against religious, political and social prejudices. Sometimes Christianity has been an obstacle for the scientific progress, and other times, it has promoted it. The scientific revolution started in a Christian context, and it was undoubtedly encouraged by the Christian idea of a structured and organised universe. Prejudice and dogmatism do not only come from religious faith. Some atheist scientists, like the cosmologist Fred Hoyle, were against the Big Bang theory, because it sounded “too religious.” My proposal tries to respect the limits and looks for a dialogue between faith and science.
Q. You affirm that Galileo’s story was distorted, but there are other historical examples: Bruno, Servet, Vanini.
A. The media representation of the Galileo case as a fight between faith and science started as a social issue at the end of the 19th century. Galileo was a victim of a power struggle inside the Vatican, which was facing the rise of Protestantism. A faction of the Papacy firmly supported Galileo, the other faction did not like him. At the end, one of the factions won.
Q. You accuse New Atheism, defended by Richard Dawkins, of being intolerant. Why do you think so?
A. Sadly, New Atheism is as intolerant and dogmatic as the religious fundamentalism they attack. Dawkins’ astonishing idea of considering the religious belief “a kind of mental illness” indicates his prejudices, and it is not a reliable analysis of beliefs. Luckily, New Atheism is falling from grace, and more intelligent forms of atheism are emerging. Many scientists believe that Dawkins has stained science with his anti-religious crusade. Science is not religious or anti-religious, it is just science. It can be compatible with atheism as well as with Christianity.
Q. You admit that both science and religion are a product of the human civilization. If religion is a human creation, how can we believe in it?
A. All our ideas are human creations, but that does not mean we must invalidate them, it just means that we need to wonder which ones are reliable. A lot of scientific literature shows that human beings look for a meaning or a perspective of reality, which is often expressed by religious or spiritual beliefs and practices. That does not make them true or false, it makes them human. Q. According to Dawkins, theology is not a science, and therefore, it should have no place in universities. A. It seems that ignoring the Christian ideas is an intellectual virtue. That is why Christians have dismissed him as an ignorant critic who does not know about their faith. For me, an intellectual virtue lies on studying, understanding and appreciating a worldview, even when we believe it is wrong. I was an atheist in my youth, and I rejected the gospel for the same reasons Dawkins rejects it. Now I see that I simply did not understand Christianity, but I would never mock atheism just because I do not agree with its main beliefs.