About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday self-promotion - "Stephen Jay Gould on Science and Religion"

For those who haven't already read it, today I'm drawing attention to my article from 2000, "Stephen Jay Gould on Science and Religion" - which you can find on my Academia.edu page or (if that doesn't suit) on my personal website.

When I wrote this piece in response to Gould's book, Rocks of Ages (with its notorious principle of non-overlapping magisteria) I wasn't expecting that years later I would be deeply involved in a public debate about what we now call "accommodationism". At the time, it was just one more article among an infomal series that I was writing for Quadrant, which was then under the editorship of the late Paddy McGuinness. Paddy encouraged my work, so this give me a market to produce articles that might have been too controversial for the more left-leaning literary and political journals in Australia (which tend, for example, to be rather solicitous toward religion). I was writing for a largely conservative readership that would have found many of my views anathema (indeed, there was sometimes a bit of a backlash, especially when I got onto topics relating to bioethics). But in many ways, that was more useful and interesting than preaching (and signalling my moral virtue and political loyalties) to the converted.

I also found Paddy to be a good editor - he had a light hand with my work, but the small tweaks that he did make were invariably improvements.

Over time, it became apparent that Gould's views, though deeply flawed in my opinion, were very influential. Indeed, similar views - insisting on a total compatibility of science and religion - have a long history in the US, and they are almost an orthodoxy with many official science bodies. Opposition to such views requires more than a single article picking apart what is wrong with a particular book. Still, this article does say much of what needs to be said, and I'll go on trying to get people to look at it and consider my arguments.

I've also recently discussed the issues at some length in a piece published at The Conversation: "Against Accommodationism: How science undermines religion." This has a different emphasis - not surprisingly since it was written some 15 years later and after further reading and thought - but the  arguments are overlapping and complementary. Check it out if you haven't done so, though I assume that most readers of this blog will have already done so, as this particular piece attracted a fair bit of controversy earlier this year.

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