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Start the Week on BBC Radio 4 looks at religion

Today's Start the Week on Radio 4 had Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Richard Harries (Bishop of Oxford), among others, discussing Dennett’s new book on religion and also Dawkins’s selfish gene idea.

It was a nice civilized discussion and a fair amount of agreement emerged among the participants. Harries, who is the archetypal intellectual C of E bishop — a species that is threatened with extinction (Harries is retiring in June) — fully accepted that religion has evolved although he stipulated that human beings had a spiritual dimension which found its fulfilment in religion.

I thought that the most valuable comment came from the journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who said that the origin of religion does not lie in faith. This is something I’ve argued myself; see The Origin of Religion. She went on to say that she could imagine (but not believe) that there was a Designer, but she saw nothing in the natural world to suggest that this Designer was kindly. The whole of evolution was based on killing. Richard Harries said that he fully agreed with this and it was here that the problem lies, not in intellectual discussion. People often imbibed religion with their mother’s milk he said, but later they encountered evil and suffering in the world and, for some, this made religion appear incredible. It does for me.

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