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Martin Rees: Atheists should drop anti-religion campaigns

Ian Sample
Posted: April 25, 2011.

Print: The Guardian

excerpt:

Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, has called on anti-religion campaigners to abandon their tactics and strive for “peaceful coexistence” with mainstream religious groups.

Rees, one of the country’s most senior scientists, criticised those who pit science against religion and urged atheists to embrace the moderate strands of faith in opposing fundamentalism.

The Cambridge cosmologist declared what he described as his “pallid and boring” view in an article in the New Statesman that amounts to a defence of his decision to accept a £1m prize given annually by the Templeton Foundation for work of a spiritual nature.

The announcement that Rees had accepted drew criticism from some scientists who claim the prize undermines the integrity of science.

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Comments (4)

What really irritates me about this article, and it irritates me quite a bit, is that Dr. Rees (or whatever his proper title is) is telling atheists to sit down and shut up.  Pretend you don’t exist.  Get back in the closet, so to speak.  I am sure on Project Reason I don’t have to say much about how religion is noisily crammed down our throats by just about every media outlet not to mention in our daily lives.  Worse, In America in particular even science and history textbooks are constantly being challenged by Christian fundamentalists, who have huge tax-free financial assets at their disposal.  Politicians deny climate change based on the story of Noah’s Ark.  And a huge segment of society does not believe one of the central and most comprehensively supported theories in modern science.  These are just a few of the many ways religion attacks reason in America.  In the meantime, Rees suggests that it is the atheists who are out of line.  I don’t think that ideas, no matter how foolish, should be attacked for no reason.  I say live and let live.  But if you want to talk religion with me, be prepared to be challenged, and don’t act like you are under attack if you don’t have a good answer.  If you want to push those ideas into the public sphere prepare for strong, rational resistance.

posted on May 8, 2011
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I’ve got to say — and I’ve got to add that I’m the most “militant” atheist that I know — that I agree completely with Rees. I think American atheists have a lot to be angry about.

I think they have every right to criticise any discrimination against them and should fight the good fight, and carry on doing so no matter what happens.

However, I believe firmly that simply antagonising religion, in whatever form it takes, is counterproductive, and so I try not to do it. I take Sam’s stance on the matter; be curious, be sensitive, don’t identify yourself as an “atheist”, and keep the common good in mind… but stand your ground if your rights are threatened.

@Mike; I don’t believe that that’s what Rees is doing. I presume you are American; if so, keep in mind that Rees is from Britain, which is far more secular than the United States, even though it has a state religion unlike your own country. He’s not used to the persecution and sidelining that you, as an American atheist, may well be. I see what he’s doing as a way of trying to encourage communication, and that’s always a good thing.

posted on May 10, 2011
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@Quintin; To say that science and religion are irreconcilable is an easily defendable position.  As I said before, some scientists are courageous enough to point that out and Rees is not one of them.  Religious faith is not something that entourages open and honest communication when matters that challenge the faith are discussed.  Attempts to usurp the orthodoxy of blind faith as a universal positive characteristic and sacred cow should be lauded not derided. 

Why should scientist embrace a worldview that relies on believing something simply because it is desired to be true?  I’m not sure if being more antagonistic will help or hurt science in the long run, but at least it’s being honest.  I wonder if Rees is really honest or not.

posted on May 10, 2011
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