Quote of the day: MIT physicist and atheist Alan Lightman on faith and Richard Dawkins

‘What troubles me about Dawkins’ pronouncements is his wholesale dismissal of religion and religious sensibility . . . In my opinion, Dawkins has a narrow view of faith . . . there are things we believe in that do not submit to the methods and reductions of science.  Furthermore, faith, and the passion for the transcendent that often goes with it, have been the impulse for so many exquisite creations of humankind.  Consider the verses of the Gitanjali, the Messiah, the mosque of the Alhambra, the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Should we take to task Tagore and Handel and Sultan Yusuf and Michelangelo for not thinking?

Faith, in its broadest sense, is about far more than belief in the existence of God or the disregard of scientific evidence.  Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand.  Faith is the belief in things larger than ourselves.  Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance that is the artistic impulse, the flight of the imagination, the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world.

Scattered throughout Dawkins’ writings are comments that religion has been a destructive force in human civilization.  Certainly, human beings, in the name of religion, have sometimes caused great suffering and death to other human beings.  But so has science, in the many weapons of destruction created by physicists, biologists and chemists, especially in the 20th century.  Both science and religion can be employed for good and for ill.  It is how they are used by human beings, by us, that matters.  Human beings have sometimes been driven by religious passion to build schools and hospitals, to create poetry and music and sweeping temples, just as human beings have employed science to cure disease, to improve agriculture, to increase material comfort and the speed of communication.’

~ Alan Lightman

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