How can we Presbyterians reach the millions who have been buying books like The God Delusion? Biologist Richard Dawkins and others are in effect trying to make atheism a fundamentalist religion according to Chris Hedges’ “When Atheism becomes Religion.” Dawkins argues that religion produces more evil than good and hopes that scientific truth will supplant religious extremism.
Such hopes are not new. The bold hope of 1945 was that the power of the scientific method, which created the atomic bomb and ended World War II, would resolve social and international problems. The 2008 presidential campaign has kindled the audacity of hope in the American dream. Are such hopes ever realized?
Sadly, 1945 also marked the beginning of the Cold War between Communism in the East and Western democracies. This included a technological race. In 1957, the Russians orbited the first satellite, Sputnik. The first attempts of the United States to match this breakthrough exploded on the launch pad. President John F. Kennedy then announced the goal of landing a man on the moon. On July 21, 1969, Werhner von Braun’s rocket technology enabled Neil Armstrong to send the first message from our closest heavenly neighbor: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
In contrast to this scientific and technical milestone in human history, our cities were burning from racial unrest and our superior military technology was not winning the Vietnam War. People asked: “Why did we spend so much money on exploring space when we have so many problems here on earth?”
Science had few answers, but religious leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. had followed Gandhi’s example of non-violent resistance to racial discrimination. His “I Have a Dream” speech, together with his later assassination, helped convince Congress and President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation. This advanced racial equality.
In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars vision for a missile space defense system led to a resurgence of government investment in science and technology. This, coupled with his diplomatic initiatives with the U.S.S.R.’s Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, resulted in a peaceful resolution of the 45-year Cold War. Science and technology had indeed contributed, in partial fulfillment of the bold hope of 1945.
In 1994, the hope of abolishing South African apartheid was fulfilled. Bishop Desmond Tutu’s and Nelson Mandela’s policy of forgiveness enabled a relatively smooth and bloodless transition to democracy.
Contrary to Richard Dawkins polemic against religion, religious leaders like Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu have contributed to the achievement of the hope of resolving human conflicts. Advances in racial equality and the peaceful resolution of the Cold War were achieved through the cooperative efforts of scientific, religious, and governmental leaders.
We need to be better communicators of the history of the last half-century, which tells us that science has not replaced religion. Both are needed. Science and religion have complementary beauty. Science’s “how” beautifully complements religion’s “why.”
PAUL H. CARR is an active member of the Bedford (New Hampshire) Church. His Web page is www.MirrorOfNature.org. He led a branch at the A.F. Research Laboratory, where he is emeritus, and taught science and religion courses at University of Massachusetts/ Lowell.