Letter: Science and theology: material and spiritual questions that are worlds apart

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was disappointed to read that so eminent a scholar as Richard Dawkins could adopt a stance of what can only be described as utilitarian fundamentalism in considering the merits of science as opposed to the manifest deficiencies (as he sees it) of 'theology' (sic).

His argument that human progress has been achieved solely as a result of scientific insight smacks of the kind of hubris and mechanistic self-sufficiency born of the Enlightenment which has brought our world to the brink of environmental catastrophe, and whose technological successes have been accompanied by an unparalleled spiritual malaise. It is depressing indeed to see science linked to utilitarianism as a point of principle to the extent that 'even the bad achievements of scientists' are lauded on the grounds that they manifest tangible results.

Bombs and rockets may be effective in what they do, but this is not to say that we can applaud either their use or the consequences that they have. All too often science can become the testing-ground for occasions of immense evil and destruction, wherein the opportunity for actions devoid of moral or spiritual responsibility becomes only too evident.

Dr Dawkins regards the achievements of theologians as contemptible because, as he puts it (in a memorable quadruple- whammy), they 'don't do anything, don't affect anything, don't achieve anything, don't even mean anything'. But the paradox of life is that, despite all humankind's wonderful technological discoveries and scientific achievements, we are still confronted (as we always have been) by the conundrum of why such endeavours are undertaken at all.

There are large questions about the meaning, motivations, and purpose of human existence which science alone and unaided is unable either to address or answer. Theology is very much alive and well as a subject because, contra Dr Dawkins, it continues to have something important to say about fundamental aspects of our perception of reality. Theologians are the professionals who seek to connect these questions and aspects to possible solutions, albeit tentatively and undemonstrably, since no answer, admittedly, can be subject to scientific proof of the kind which doubtless would satisfy Dr Dawkins that theology has a purpose of which he could


But in the context of a world where life can be as nasty, brutish and short as it ever has been in previous centuries, the words and works of the theologians can be at least as uplifting and enlightening as those contained in any scientific treatise, as many of those who live and die at the receiving end of the artefacts of so-called scientific 'progress' would surely testify.

Any development or initiative that seeks to reconcile the aims of science with a proper theological understanding seems to me to be something that should be welcomed with both optimism and enthusiasm.

Yours faithfully,



Theology and Religious


Cambridge University Press


22 March