The HuffPo Science section can’t seem to keep its mitts off religion. Why on earth do they keep dragging God into that section?
The latest theistic incursion is a “slide show” called “Science and religion quotes: what the world’s greatest scientists say about God.” There are 21 quotes, each accompanied by a photo of the scientist, and, to be fair, there’s a mixture of atheist and pro-religion statements. A few of them, however, seem unfair to me, since the scientists at issue were clearly atheistic or agnostic in other, unquoted statements.
“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual…The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”
Okay, but this isn’t about God or religion, it’s about awe before the universe. By interpolating it in a post dealing with what scientists say about religion and God, HuffPo is Pulling An Ecklund, a neologism that I coyned to mean “a maneuver to bolster religion by including secular ‘spirituality’ within its ambit.” And of course it’s well known that Sagan was an atheist. Here’s another quote, from Broca’s Brain, that they could have used (see quote #26 on the link, about an end-of-the-world prediction by religion):
“But religions are tough. Either they make no contentions which are subject to disproof or they quickly redesign doctrine after disproof. The fact that religions can be so shamelessly dishonest, so contemptuous of the intelligence of their adherents, and still flourish does not speak very well for the tough- mindedness of the believers. But it does indicate, if a demonstration was needed, that near the core of the religious experience is something remarkably resistant to rational inquiry.”
“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.”
Once more the old man is co-opted in the cause of God. Einstein clearly didn’t believe in a personal God, and said so many times. He called himself an agnostic, but I think he was, like David Attenborough, just a nonbeliever who didn’t like the term “atheist.” They could, for instance, have used this quote from Einstein:
“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text.”
or this one, in reply to an atheist who was worried about news reports that Einstein was conventionally religious:
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
But the worst one is this:
“The impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God.”
If you know anything about Darwin, you’ll smell this quote as fishy. It reeks of being ripped out of context, just as creationists misuse Darwin’s quote about the absurdity of assuming that the eye could have evolved. Darwin was a nonbeliever: an agnostic at best, perhaps even an atheist. So let’s look at this quote in context. According to the Darwin Correspondence Project, it’s from a letter written by Darwin to N. D. Doedes on April 2, 1873. Here’s the whole letter, with the entire discussion in bold (the part quoted in HuffPo is underlined)
I am much obliged for the photograph of yourself and friend.I am sure that you will excuse my writing at length, when I tell you that I have long been much out of health, and am now staying away from my home for rest. It is impossible to answer your question briefly; and I am not sure that I could do so, even if I wrote at some length. But I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man’s intellect; but man can do his duty.
With my best wishes for your success in life, I remain, dear Sir, | Yours faithfully | Ch. Darwin.
Note how not only the introduction to the quote is omitted, but, crucially, the quote given by HuffPo ends in a period, but Darwin goes on to question the very argument for God’s existence! The semicolon and part after it is simply omitted. And note how he brings in the existence of suffering as a counterbalance to God’s existence. This is classical Darwin, trying to avoid overt atheism without signing on to the idea of a personal God, or even a benevolent one. When pressed, Darwin always punted and averred that it’s beyond our powers to judge. He was, like Attenborough, not fond of confrontation, especially about the idea of God. His wife was religious, of course, and he also worried about religious opposition to his great ideas of evolution and natural selection.
HuffPo has simply done what creationists do: mined a Darwin quote to make it seem as if he believed in God. It’s ridiculous, and whoever put those quotes together should be admonished. I’ll inform the editor of the science section, but I doubt that they’ll make any changes.