Letter: Heretics under fire

December 21, 2000

In the five years I have subscribed to The THES, I have been struck by how often in articles distinguished scientists posit the existence of a God - even an immanent God. Does Peter Atkins ("Bishops lurking in the bushes", Books, December 8) really dismiss these colleagues' views as "the superficially erudite babble" of "the inmates of an asylum for learned lunatics"?

Other scientists express similar views just as frequently. But given there is clearly a debate in science (something one would never guess from Atkins), his urging "to accept the stark, clear-sighted view of right-thinking individuals who see that there is neither evidence nor need for God" is based (dare I say it) on faith, rather than on the rational testing of a hypothesis. Atkins and those who share his preference for war between science and religion have an almost evangelical fervour, while they ascribe qualities to science that are best described as soteriological. Rather than championing science in a controversy with religion, they are taking part in an inter-faith dialogue. However, most believers who participate in such dialogues reveal more open-mindedness, willingness, to consider the views of others, and old-fashioned courtesy than do the proponents of the new (anti-)religious bigotry.

If new Latimers and Ridleys are burned for heresy in Oxford in the 21st century, the fire might well be lit by those who have subscribed to the deeply intolerant rhetoric of Atkins.

David Trim
Humanities department
Newbold College

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