Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gotta Have Faith: Marilynne Robinson

Are religion and science simply two systems that don’t merge?

The debate seems to be between a naive understanding of religion and a naive understanding of science. When people try to debunk religion, it seems to me they are referring to an eighteenth-century notion of what science is. I’m talking about Richard Dawkins here, who has a status that I can’t quite understand. He acts as if the physical world that is manifest to us describes reality exhaustively. On the other side, many of the people who articulate and form religious expression have not acted in good faith. The us-versus-them mentality is a terrible corruption of the whole culture.

You’ve written critically about Dawkins and the other New Atheists. Is it their disdain for religion and championing of pure science that troubles you?

No, I read as much pure science as I can take in. It’s a fact that their thinking does not feel scientific. The whole excitement of science is that it’s always pushing toward the discovery of something that it cannot account for or did not anticipate. The New Atheist types, like Dawkins, act as if science had revealed the world as a closed system. That simply is not what contemporary science is about. A lot of scientists are atheists, but they don’t talk about reality in the same way that Dawkins does. And they would not assume that there is a simple-as-that kind of response to everything in question. Certainly not on the grounds of anything that science has discovered in the last hundred years.
The science that I prefer tends toward cosmology, theories of quantum reality, things that are finer-textured than classical physics in terms of their powers of description. Science is amazing. On a mote of celestial dust, we have figured out how to look to the edge of our universe. I feel instructed by everything I have read. Science has a lot of the satisfactions for me that good theology has.

-- from this excellent Paris Review interview with Marilynne Robinson, via Get Religion.


geoprogrimm said...

I don't quite know who Marilynne Robinson is, but I don't think she's spent much time reading Dawkins. Rather it seems she's listened to some straw man caticatures, or if she has read him, it's through some pretty fogged lenses. I get the exact same idea of science from reading Dawkins as she expresses she gets in other places. One can't read Dawkins without getting an expansive, wonderful, awesome sense of the universe. And by the way, The God Delusion, to which I guess she is referring, is NOT a work of science. The conclusion that there is no god is certainly informed by science, but it is science together with other rational methods that yield the conclusion.

I would rather have some examples of things that Dawkins SAYS that show what she takes to be a reductive, closed model of science, rather than just saying he ACTS that way. Just don't get this from my reading of Dawkins, certainly in his scientific work, but even in his descriptions of science in The God Delusion.

And to say that science always pushes towards the new and unanticipated (or, to be more precise, that that is the only 'esciting' science) is just bizarre. I find it quite exciting to think that science and scientists are involved in debunking all kinds of theories and belief in all kinds of alleged entities.

I know this is an excerpt from a longer interview, and she might go on to give lots of examples that make her case in that interview, but we have to make up our minds fairly quickly these days about who has something interesting to say and who doesn't. I might be wrong, but she sounds like a brainless twit to me, on the basis of this.


Lashley said...

I love Marilynne Robinson, especially Gilead (I was actually very recently considering posting a very boring blog-soliloquy praising that very book). My ears/eyes perk anytime I read something about religion and science being able to coexist - not being mutually exclusive.

I don't think her views (at least as expressed in the interview) would really serve to "convert" any atheists, but it's lovely to read how comfortable she seems to be with the world around her. She seems able to navigate the "secular" and "nonsecular" (whatever those words mean) in a really peaceful way.

I suppose I'm biased, but it's interesting how geoprogrimm's comment does much worse to Robinson than he criticizes her for doing. She's at least read what she's speaking about before forming her opinion. An "I might be wrong" clause hardly justifies ignorant, jump-to-conclusions judgments.