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Why atheists are wrong about science and religion

Back in April this year, Melbourne hosted the second Global Atheist Convention, a follow-up to the gathering of thousands of atheists from around the globe that took place there in 2010. Both events featured the most prominent of the so-called New Atheists, Richard Dawkins.

To believe Dawkins, and many of the other speakers at the conference, you'd think there is a deep gulf between science and religion, that the two are intractably at loggerheads and have nothing useful to say to each other.

But this is at odds with what many other theologians, philosophers and scientists tell us. They say science and religion are both quests for truth dealing with different aspects of human experience. This is well summed up in Galileo's famous statement that 'the Bible tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go'.

He in turn was quoting an eminent churchman of his time, historian and curial official, Cardinal Cesare Baronio. Both these men, one on the side of science, the other on the side of religion, recognised the legitimacy of both.

Chris Mulherin, featured here on Eureka Street TV, similarly has a foot in both camps; an Anglican clergyman with a substantial academic background studying and lecturing in science and the philosophy of science.

He is now doing his doctorate on the relationship between scientific and theological ways of knowing. He argues they are different but complementary ways of understanding, and summarises the difference by saying that while science deals with mechanics, religion deals with meaning.

Mulherin's first degrees, both from the University of Melbourne, were in Mechanical Engineering and English and Philosophy. Following this he gained a Master of Science, also from the University of Melbourne, on the philosophy of science, with his thesis focusing on the nature of scientific knowledge.

Next he gained a Bachelor of Divinity with honours from the Melbourne College of Divinity. He was ordained an Anglican minister, then worked for 12 years, from 1994–2006, as a university chaplain and minister in Argentina.

After returning to Melbourne, he began his doctorate at the MCD University of Divinity. He now lectures at Catholic Theological College and the Anglican Ridley College, tutors at the University of Melbourne, and is a minister at St Jude's Anglican Church in Parkville.

Since 2010 Mulherin has worked as a freelance writer and contributor to ABC Radio National. He wrote a very thoughtful blog for the ABC analysing and commenting on the 2010 Global Atheists Convention.

He has also written about very personal events in his life. In 2010 he wrote a moving and eloquent account forEureka Street of the passing of his son, Ben, who died from cancer. He spoke not only of the course of Ben’s illness, but also with depth and clarity about the grieving of the whole family.

He often speaks at conferences, has penned scores of articles for popular and academic journals, and has contributed chapters to three books: Knowing and Being: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Michael Polanyi; Hermeneutics and the Authority of Scripture; and, most recently, God and Science: In Classroom and Pulpit

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Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity. 



Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Global Atheist Convention, Richard Dawkins, Chris Mulherin