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Religion and Science: an Argument

December 6, 2012

Why do science and religion antagonise each other? Why do they so often seem to be at each other’s throats?

Well, imagine a man, Jones, pops out to buy a Sunday paper from his local shop. He hasn’t bothered to spruce himself up for the trip – he’s just thrown on some tracksuit bottoms and a scruffy jumper he snatched from the bedroom floor. He’s unshaven and his hair is greasy and only hastily brushed. But what does he care? He’s buying a paper, not meeting the Queen.

But now, while Jones is deciding which paper to get a second man, Smith, stands beside him at the periodicals shelf. Smith is wearing an expensive, freshly-pressed lamb’s-wool suit. He is immaculately groomed, his shoes are polished and (unlike Jones) he smells of exclusive cologne rather than last night’s beer. Neither says a word to the other. Neither suggests by facial expression, posture or gesture that he has any distinct opinion of the other. They are simply two strangers who happen to be in the same shop at the same time.

And yet what is Jones thinking while he stands there? Perhaps nothing at all. Or perhaps he quietly admires Smith’s suit and thinks he would like one for himself. It might be, however, that in some way he finds difficult to define Jones feels got at by Smith’s smart appearance. It’s as if Smith’s mere presence is a kind of rebuke to his own slovenliness. “Only an idiot goes to such lengths to buy a Sunday paper” he thinks in an attempt to justify himself before his imaginary tribunal. And maybe it’s the same with Smith. Maybe Jones’ mere presence makes him feel stuffy, square and over-dressed. “What a scruff!” thinks Smith, addressing his own tribunal. “Has the man no self-respect?”

And perhaps as the two men stand there an increasingly palpable tension develops between them until at last one of them can bear it no longer and makes a slightly cutting remark about the other’s appearance. “Ha-ha!” thinks the other, “So I was right: he does despise me!” Stung, he makes a cutting remark in return. This, of course, produces a more direct criticism from the first person. The criticism is returned with interest and the next thing you know Smith and Jones are having a blazing row in the middle of the local corner shop.

A parable.

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From → Religion, Science

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