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[escepticos] Crìtica de Libros


El último número  de 'The Economist', en su sección de 'books & arts',
comenta tres libros; uno de Stephen Jay Gould (Rocks of Ages), otro de Peter
Bowler (Reconciling Science and Religion etc.) y un tercero de Daniel
Harbour (An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism). Este último me ha
parecido interesante, y por eso he hecho el OCR de toda la crítica, que va a
continuación. Además, tiene pocas páginas... Lo breve, si bueno...

 Not long ago, an American philoso-
 pher, John Searle, ruefully observed
 that his colleagues seldom bothered to dis-
  cuss the existence -or otherwise- of God:
 "It is considered in slightly bad taste to
 even raise the question. Matters of religion
 are like matters of sexual preference: they
 are not to be discussed in public."
 Diderot and Bertrand Russell, two fam-
 ous earlier non-believers, would also have
 been puzzled by what has happened to
 God at the hands of the western intelli-
 gentsia. Unbelief is widespread, yet few
 can be bothered to argue for their unbelief.
 This is partly because religion is now com-
 monly treated in western societies as a life-
 style choice, a matter of taste, not reason.
 Yet can religious faith, with its many politi-
 cal and social consequences, be neatly
 ring-fenced in this way?
 Religious toleration rightly requires
 that you must let your neighbour practise
 his religion without fear of persecution or
 reprisal. In the light of the west's awful his-
 tory of religious warfare, if nothing else,
 that is a hard won and admirable princi-
 ple. But there is also a prevalent attitude-
 call it religious correctness -with which
 genuine toleration is easily confused: a po-
 lite and well-meaning reluctance to engage
 believers in the sort of robust clash of
 ideas that might discomfit them.
 A telling recent example of this new
 correctness is provided by Stephen Jay
 Gould's "Rocks of Ages". Mr Gould is a
 zoologist and geologist at Harvard -a prac-
 titioner, that is, of the two sciences that did
 the most to undermine traditional chris-
 tian belief. Mr Gould says that he is not a
 believer but that he has "great respect" for
 religion, and: "I believe, with all my heart,
 in a respectful, even loving concordat be-
 tween...science and religion." His book is
 full of respect for religion, but nowhere is
 there any hint of what makes it worthy of
 such veneration. Is religion among the
 boons or ills of mankind? Does it do more
 harm than good? These are proper ques-
 tions. But Mr Gould avoids them. He has
 proved himself an eager controversialist in
 several scientific fields, but here he seems
 unable to submit religion to the same rigor-
 ous questioning that he has applied else-
 where in his work. Instead, it seems, he
 opts for the polite and caring attitude.
 Mr Gould calls his thesis the principle
 of non-overlapping magisteria. science
 and religion operate, he says, in different
 but "equally vital" spheres, with no com-
 mon ground. They ought to observe "re-
 spectful non-interference" in their deal-
 ings with one another. The alleged conflict
 between the two "exists only in people's
 minds and social practices". science tries
 to document and explain facts, whereas re-
 ligion operates in "the realm of human
 purposes, meanings and values-subjects
 that the factual domain of science might il-
 luminate, but can never resolve."
 This intellectual apartheid is less coher-
 ent than it may seem. By contrasting the re-
 ligious realm of values with the realm of
 facts, Mr Gould exposes himself to a di-
 lemma. Do all facts lie outside the realm of
 religion, or only facts about the natural
 world? If the former, then each religion is
 simply a set of moral teachings and atti-
 tudes which one accepts or rejects as a
 matter of taste. If the latter, and there is a
 mysterious class of "supernatural" facts
 that are allegedly outside the realm of sci-
 ence, then the age-old wars of science and
 religion are bound to break out once more.
 The result of any attempt such as Mr
 Gould's to insulate religion from criticism
 is the evisceration of faith. Deprived of its
 right to assert facts, christianity, for exam-
 ple, is reduce d to the status of a fan club for
 the sayings of Jesus. Many atheists would
 be perfectly happy to join it.
 Mr Gould's "separate-but-equal" sol-
 ution is hardly original. These arguments
 are old-and abiding-ones, as Peter Bow-
 ler reminds us in his history of earlier at- »
 tempts to reconcile modern science and
 contemporary religion. Focusing on early
 20th-century Britain, he describes in schol-
 arly detail different strategies for harmo-
 nising faith and knowledge: the sought-
 afier alliance between liberal theologians
 in the church of England and religious-
 minded scientists, and the rather different
 efforts of science-minded writers such as
 Julian Huxley and George Bernard Shaw
 to foster a modern, non-christian religion.
 All the while, as Mr Bowler also reminds
 us, the conservative faithful on the one
 side and the atheists on the other-ratio-
 nalists such as H.G, wells or Marxist so-
 cialists-resisted calls for reconciliation of
 any kind.
 Has anything changed? Perhaps more
 than appears. Despite its title, Daniel Har-
 bour's "An Intelligent Person's Guide to
 Atheism" is not so much an explanation or
 history of unbelief as a powerful piece of
 advocacy for rejecting the religious atti-
 tude altogether. Mr Harbour does a strong
 job of defending atheism against some of
 the secondary charges that have been lev-
 elled against it -such as the complaint that
 atheistic political regimes have turned out
 to be worse than religious ones, or that
 atheists, if they follow through on what
 they believe, are bound to be amoral. But
 he also, and this is the core of his book,
 makes a positive case for the rational
 superiority of unbelief.
 Starting from the sound premise that
 we know much less than we would like to
 about all sorts of things, Mr Harbour, an
 Oxford University graduate in mathemat-
 ics and philosophy and now a student of
 linguistics at MIT, argues that we ought to
 aim for a world view that is a "Spartan
  meritocracy" rather than a "Baroque mon-
  archy". A Spartan approach, in his sense,
  endorses as small a set of assumptions or
  theories as possible; and a world view that
  is meritocratic is one in which beliefs are
 maintained only if they stand up to criti-
 cism and the test of evidence.
  Judaism, Christianity and Islam are, by
  contrast, in his view, Baroque monarchies.
 Taken as beliefs, they are teeming nests of
 unwarranted assumptions that are not re-
 quired to pass any tests of merit, but are
  maintained largely because they are found
 in scripture or accepted by tradition. Much
 of his reasoning will be familiar to the dev-
 otees of anti-clerical writers such as vol-
 taire or openly godless ones such as Rus-
  sell, but the overall structure of his
  approach is new. As Mr Harbour has a
 great deal of ground to cover in a mere 143
 pages, many of the arguments are com-
 pressed, and his style of writing is not pol-
 ished. But, with its powerful and wide-
 ranging arguments against theism of all
 kinds, Mr Harbour's short book, neverthe-
 less, makes what may be the most power-
 ful case available to the widely held but
 strangely silent creed of atheism. .