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Get The Bunting Out

Posted by Ben on Thursday, June 22, 2006 | Permalink

Now then, I don't want to imply that it was the torrent of criticism that surged her way once The Graun exposed their op-eds to the masses on CiF, but Madeleine Bunting is outta here, having legged it to the safety of a think tank. Well actually, I do want to imply it - I'm sure I'm wrong but the idea makes me happy (mental note: ignore all suggestions emanating from Demos from now on).

Anyway, she left us one last column, and this bit stood out to me.*

Many areas of science are legitimising religious thought in ways regarded as inconceivable for much of the past century and half. Quantum physicists question our understanding of reality and Hindus respond: "So what's new?"; neuroscientists formulate understandings of consciousness and Buddhists retort as politely as possible: "We told you so."

What is she saying here? I'm not as up on Bhuddist and Hindu ideas as I probably should be (the You-Only-Pick-On-Christians brigade please take note - that's why) and Bunting doesn't give any specific details, so I'm not actually sure what claims on their part she's talking about, but I can think of three possibilities.

1) These guys had an inside line to the truth and knew it centuries ago, a religious hare on the side of the track polishing its nails and waiting for the scientific tortoise to catch up. This is evidently bollocks, I think.
2) The ideas she's referring to are philosophical ponderings on the nature of reality and consciousness with no specific truth claims, in which case whoop de fucking do, we don't really need a religious background for that, do we?
3) They got it right by accident. However many hundreds of years ago some bloke pulled an explanation out his arse and it's been vindicated since. Well, sorry, but you don't get any brownie points for that - that'd like me guessing which horse will come in first at the Grand National and claiming I'm psychic when it canters over the line (I could of course base my prediction on form and suchlike, but that's basically science, innit?). You don't stand there waiting for the admiration to flood in when you've made a lucky guess. It's a point that I often think isn't appreciated enough - the truth is important, but so is the method you use to reach it. You only get to retort politely "told you so" if your argument had a better basis than faith, because religious truth claims are far more often wrong than right, as is the wont of stuff made up out of thin air. You could (politely, of course), retort to the Bhuddists "blimey, so how'd you know that?" What do you think the answer would be?

So really, unless there's a point she's trying to make that I've missed (and suggestions are welcome), religion really doesn't have that much to offer us, ethics-wise, does it? Give me rational argument any day.

*although she did manage to somehow divine the contents of a book that's not been published yet.

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