Thursday, April 7, 2011

"There are lots of important things that are separate from science"

The winner of the 2011 Templeton Prize is Martin Rees, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, who is described as a "theoretical astrophysicist." Since Templeton is interested in the relationship between science and religion it is interesting that Rees describes himself as having "no religious beliefs at all." Whether he is agnostic or atheist, he does have opinions about scientists pronouncing about religion. From an interview with Rees at the Guardian:
Ian Sample: You said in a BBC radio interview that one of the reasons you think science and religion can sit side-by-side and peacefully co-exist is that they deal with different realms.

Martin Rees: As I said earlier, I don't think they have much scope for constructive interaction, but they have in common perhaps an awareness of mystery.

IS: The suggestion is that science deals with the "material world" and religion deals with something "extra-material". Where does one end and the other start? There are aspects of religion that comment on the creation of Earth, the creation of the universe, the creation of humanity and the spread of HIV around Africa. Religion appears in those contexts, but are those not material issues?

MR: Yes. Obviously. But I think just as religion is separate from science, so is ethics separate from science. So is aesthetics separate from science. And so are many other things. There are lots of important things that are separate from science.

IS: If there is a clear and obvious boundary between science and religion, how does religion come to be used in these contexts?

MR: I try to avoid getting into these science and religion debates.

IS: Will you be able to stay out of them now you have the Templeton prize?

MR: It's my choice.

IS: There was an extraordinary fuss last year over Stephen Hawking's pronouncement that the creation of the universe did not require a God. What did you make of that?

MR: What I said at the time is that I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read little philosophy and less theology, so I don't think his views should be taken with any special weight.

IS: You have read on those subjects. What's your view?

MR: What's my view? Well, I'm not prepared to pronounce on these things. I think it's rather foolish when scientists do so.
Martin Rees: I've got no religious beliefs at all - interview | Science | guardian.co.uk