Maybe religion is the answer claims atheist scientist
The world may have to turn to God to save itself from climate change, claims one of Britain’s most eminent scientists.
By Richard Alleyne
Lord May, the president of the British Science Association, said religion may have helped protect human society from itself in the past and it may be needed again.
Speaking on the eve of the association’s annual conference, the committed atheist said he was worried the world was on a “calamitous trajectory” brought on by its failure to co-ordinate measures against global warming.
He said that no country was prepared to take the lead and a “punisher” was needed to make sure the rules of co-operation were not broken.
The former Government chief scientific advisor said in the past that was God and it might be time again for religion to fill the gap.
“Maybe religion is needed,” said Lord May, who was brought up a Scottish Presbyterian but went through an “inverse epiphany” at the age of 11.
“A supernatural punisher maybe part of the solution.”
He said in the past a belief in a god, or gods, that punish the unrighteous may have been part of the mechanism of evolution that maintains co-operation in a dog-eat-dog world.
Having a god as the ultimate punisher was possibly a logical step for a society to take, he added.
“Given that punishment is a useful mechanism, how much more effective it would be if you invested that power not in an individual you don’t like, but an all-seeing, all powerful deity that controls the world,” he said
“It makes for rigid, doctrinaire societies, but it makes for co-operation.”
Such a system would be “immensely stabilising in individual human cultures” and societies, he pointed out.
Lord May, a zoologist at Oxford University, has been a vociferous critic of the world’s failure to grapple with climate change.
In 2005, he attacked President Bush for acting like a latter-day Nero who fiddles while the world burns because of global warming.
Just days later he lambasted the British Government’s environmental record, labeling some of its policies as “gutless” and saying it needed to do “a hell of a lot more”.
Lord May, who was the chief scientist between 1995 to 2000, also equated climate change to the destructive effects of weapons of mass destruction.
But his latest comments seem to suggest even greater exasperation in the run up to climate change talks in Copenhagen this December.
He said that while religion maybe one possible answer, it remained, at the moment, very much part of the problem as it had teetered ever more towards fundamentalism.
In less troubled times religions had become softer and less dogmatic, and embraced a more humane set of values, he said.
But that pattern was now reversing with the rise of fundamental Islamic and Christian beliefs.
At the same time, the human race was facing tremendous challenges with population soaring, energy and food resources running out, and the spectre of climate change looming in the distance.
“Under stress you reduce complex doctrines to simple mantras,” said Lord May.
“I would say the US is one of the worst examples. The Catholic Church under Its present pope is another appalling example, for instance with its declaration that people with HIV shouldn’t use condoms. I think that’s a reaction to difficult times.”
Authoritarian religion had directly undermined attempts to achieve global co-operation on climate change, he maintained.
“People who believe in the End of Days, who believe the world is going to come to an end, don’t care about climate change,” he said. “I think there is quite a strong connection between the religious right and climate change denial.”
Asked if religious leaders should be doing more to persuade people to combat climate change, he replied: “absolutely”.