The desert of a life without love

Solstice sunrise over Shooters Hill, 21 June 2009
Solstice sunrise over Shooters Hill, 21 June 2009

One of the songs performed last night by Chris Wood in Cowden Pound was born of the Darwin Song Project. Here, eight writers were holed up for a week in a retreat in rural Shropshire, and each instructed to come up with a musical celebration to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Shrewsbury’s most famous son, Charles Darwin.

In the introduction to his own contribution to the Darwin Song Project, Chris remarked about the supposed conflict between scientific rationalism and faith, and came out with something that at first sounded like the non-overlapping majisteria thesis. Only it was simpler and deeper than Stephen Jay Gould’s wordy insistence that:

“…science and religion do not glower at each other…[but] interdigitate in patterns of complex fingering, and at every fractal scale of self-similarity.”

Chris appears more interested in the emotional side of faith, and illustrated this with reference to Darwin’s reaction to the death from scarlet fever of his young daughter Annie. When Joseph Hooker wrote to say that his son Willy had contracted the same disease, Darwin replied:

“I grieve to hear about the Scarlet-Fever: my poor dear old friend you are most unfortunate. The tide must turn soon … Much love much trial, but what an utter desert is life without love.”

As far as I’m concerned, you can stick religion where the solstice sun don’t shine. But it seems clear to me that the root of spirituality and faith is selfless love, as displayed, for example, in the relationship between parent and child. I see no dichotomy between science and faith in this form. Science is evidence-based even where it follows most anarchic of methodological codes, but it nevertheless remains a creative endeavour in which love and faith play an integral part.

The only people who benefit from the non-overlapping magisteria credo are purveyors of organised religious nonsense who use it to avoid justifying their dogmatic beliefs. In reality we have one human metaculture, with no artificial borders. If that’s faith, you can count me in.