It’s refreshing to hear an eminent scientist like Professor Steve Jones concede that their discipline has delivered less than it promised, and to hear him voice scepticism about the pace of technological development. Society’s reverence for the digital, the technological or the scientific often reaches unnerving degrees; so it’s instructive to hear someone at the vanguard of progress caution that it is ‘always a big mistake’ for technology to run ahead of human understanding. I’d be interested to know what he thinks should be done about this problem.
But, what is it about certain people’s attitude to religious faith? I reproduce Jones’ answer to JP O’Malley’s final question in full:
‘I don’t think many philosophers have stabbed each other to death, whether they are for Nietzsche or for Bertrand Russell. But plenty of people have, who argue about the utter minutiae of faiths, Sunni and Shia, for example. Many of them have killed each other, with a feeling that they are doing right.
This is also true with Christianity. They are absolutely sure that they are right, and the other side is wrong. And that is where the problem lies. That in the end is what drives me away from religion: there is a mystery that you don’t particularly share. And everybody who doesn’t agree with that mystery deserves to be killed. That is the pragmatic reason, not the philosophical reason, why I think religion is a bad thing.’
Professor Jones talks about ‘pragmatic reason’; but, his reasoning is, frankly, lamentable. It follows thus: some people who profess faith commit murder out of the certainty of their convictions; therefore, all religion is bad. This barely qualifies as logic, pragmatic or otherwise. It’s like saying something as ludicrous as ‘Dr Mengele was a eugenicist; therefore, genetics (and by extension geneticists) are a bad thing.’
I’m quite shocked that someone of Professor Jones’s evident intelligence and sensitivity could say something so wholly fatuous and devoid of empathy.