When Grayling condemns religion on the grounds that “a theory that explains everything, and can be falsified by nothing, is empty,” he takes for granted that religions are primitive theories, now rendered obsolete by science. Such was the position of J. G. Frazer, the Victorian evangelist for positivism and author of the once-celebrated survey of myth, The Golden Bough (1890). In this view, religion is chiefly a product of intellectual error, and will fade away along with continuing scientific advance.
But what if science were to show that religion serves needs that do not change with the growth of knowledgethe need for meaning, for example? In that case, it would not be religion and science that were at odds, but science and atheism. The upshot of scientific inquiry would be that religion is an ineradicable part of human life. Atheismat least of the evangelical variety that Grayling promotes, which aims to convert humankind from religionwould be a supremely pointless exercise.
John Gray is one of the most provocative thinkers around. I recommend his somewhat repetitive but refreshing screed against liberal delusions of "progress", Straw Dogs.
(Hat tip: Stuttaford)
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.