Just recently, I heard him in a brief piece on the ABC Radio Science Show. He was talking on the divide between science and religion – and he rather surprised me with some non-establishment words. His conversation drilled into some finer points of this divide. Inter alia:
“I suspect my beliefs or lack of beliefs are rather similar to Richard Dawkins's…”Then:
“I agree with Richard Dawkins that fundamentalism… is a real danger, and I think we therefore need all the allies we can muster against it, and I would see the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, as on my side against fundamentalism. Therefore it seems to me counterproductive to rubbish people like that. I'd like to see them on my side, and as a Brit who grew up in that culture, I'm rather supportive of the Church of England.The Templeton Prize was apparently a notable point of departure between Rees and Dawkins. The prize “honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works”.
And I think there's another reason where I think his attitude is also damaging. Suppose you were teaching a group of kids in a London school and a lot were Muslims and you told them that they couldn't have their god and have Darwin. They're going to stick with their god and be lost to science, and that, again, I think is counterproductive. So I believe wherever possible one should have peaceful coexistence with mainstream religions.”
Rees said Dawkins labelled him a quisling because Rees was “less hostile to the Templeton Foundation than he was.” But then: “I don't go all the way with the Templeton Foundation because they believe in constructive dialogue. I think there's limited scope for constructive dialogue, I think there can be peaceful coexistence, but I don't believe theologians can help with my physics”.
Per se, that’s not too far from the resolution attempted by another scientist, Stephen Jay Gould. He coined the term Non-Overlapping Magisteria (or NOMA): “Science tries to record and explain the factual characteristics of the natural world, whereas religion struggles with spiritual and ethical questions about the meaning and proper conduct of our lives. The facts of nature simply cannot explain correct moral behaviour or spiritual meaning”.*
Of course, that satisfied few who weren’t already satisfied. And although the two are similar, I rather like Rees' turn of phrase.
Full text of the Rees conversation available here.
*Gould, SJ (2003): The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister’s Pox (p87). Jonathan Cape, London.