"A Man's a Man for all that!" - Rabbie Burns

"Religion? No thanks. I prefer not to outsource my brainwashing." - Bunc
Trying to get your average Joe creationist to understand the phrase scientific theory is as hard as getting a fish to enjoy mountaineering. Its an unimagined world for them - it requires a complete reversal of their normal modes of thinking and being. The fact that humans could explain the complexities of this world without a creating God is a world view they cannot grasp. It's like asking a tuna if it appreciates the view from the top of Mount Everest. Bunc

Sep 22, 2010

The end of God? Horizon

The end of God? A Horizon guide to Science and Religion is a special programme produced in the famous BBC Horizon series tradition that appears to have been made to link with the Pope's visit to Britain.  I'm not sure when this was first aired in the BBC schedule but I am about to watch it on BBC four in the rather early hours of the morning after completing some work.

The program is fronted by historian Dr Thomas Dixon and the write up blurb on the BBC site for the programme suggests that he has used BBC archive material to explore the developing relationship between science and religion over the years. He will apparently look at the development of science over the years and ask whether the expansion of scientific knowledge still leaves room for God. Should be interesting.

Here is the link to the BBC iPlayer page for the programme. I'm not sure if overseas readers will be able to use the iPlayer to view the programme.

Review / Update: The end of God? was an hour long trip through the archives of some of the most memorable Horizon programmes over the years put together as a reasonably good overview of the range of issues that the development of science has posed for religion over the centuries.  The program ranged from the challenge posed by Aristotle to the geocentric view through the challenges posed by evolution and the attempts by fundamentalists to resist this particularly in the US through their insistence on Biblical creation and the whole Behe irreducible complexity of the flagellum nonsense and its defeat when challenged in a US court.

Towards the final part of the programme Dr Dixon presented the grander view of God which religions have adopted to avoid the pitfalls of the God of the gaps approach. This is the God as grand designer of the Universe approach. The need for such a grand designer God as an explanation was again recently challenged by Stephen Hawking so even here we seem to be driven towards a God of the gaps.

In the final part of the programme Dr Dixon looked at issues relating to the biological basis for religious belief. It was in this area that there was , if anywhere, some small comfort for believers in a God.

The programme showed excerpts from an older Horizon programme which looked at research which had used a "God Helmet". This helmet - which appeared to be simply a motorbike helmet with some electrical gubbins taped on it - produces a magnetic field across specific portions of the brain. These same portions of the brain have been noted to shut down during Buddhist meditation and when nuns  undertake devout prayer.

The explanation was that this area of the brain is linked to our sense of time and place - our rootedness - and that the religious experience in many different cultures has the common feature that it tends to result in less activity in this area. The result is a sense of otherness, religious aura and often an sense of the "presence" of something outside oneself.  The god helmet at the flick of a switch was able to reproduce this experience in around 80% of volunteers.  They recruited Richard Dawkins to try it out but it didn't work on him. It was hard to tell if he was relieved or disappointed !

In his end note Dr Dixon suggested that because of our cultural history, our desire for grand explanations and meaning and possibly because of such biological proclivities we may never see the final disappearance of religious belief systems. In that sense it was a programme to cheer both the atheists and the believers among us. It showed the logical non-necessity for god belief and how science is by the year squeezing the gaps within which god can hide. At the same time there was some comfort for believers that science isn't yet about to demolish the cultural edifice we call religion.

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