Friday, 6 November 2009

Chief Rabbi Confuses Everyone

A lecture given by the UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, to the Theos Think Tank has been variously reported in the media. Theos has the headline "Religion set to play a bigger role". The Guardian "Falling birth-rate is killing Europe". The "Europe is dying from secularism". The Times "Islam must separate religion from power". The actual text of his speech, a 12-page MS.doc, can be downloaded from the Theos site. Here is part of the text:

Now I am going to do something here which is deliberately provocative, but why should the angry atheists get all the best tunes? So let me give you two very provocative examples; let me begin with the neo-Darwinians. After all, it’s their year – the 200th anniversary of Darwin and 150th of The Origin of Species. I haven’t seen this argument ever presented before; a five step neo-Darwinian refutation of neo-Darwinism.

1. A person is, in Richard Dawkins’ beautiful phrase, “a gene’s way of making another gene”. So forget religion, forget values, forget ideals, its all about reproduction; handing on our genes to the next generation.

2. Europe today is the most secular region in the world.

3. Europe today is the only region in the world which is experiencing population decline. As you know, zero population growth – a stable population – requires an average of 2.1 children for every woman of child-bearing age in the population. Not one European country has anything like that rate today. Here are the 2004 figures: In the United Kingdom: 1.74, in the Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32 and Greece: 1.29.

4. Wherever you turn today anywhere in the world, and whether you look at the Jewish or Christian or Muslim communities, you will find the more religious the community, the larger, on average, are its families.

5. The major assault on religion today comes from the neo-Darwinians.

From which it follows, as night doth follow day, that if you are a true neo-Darwinian believer you want there to be as few neo-Darwinians as possible. QED.

Now, actually, it sounds like a joke, but beneath it, is a very serious point indeed. Parenthood involves massive sacrifice: of money, attention, time and emotional energy. Where today, in European culture with its consumerism and its instant gratification ‘because you’re worth it’, in that culture, where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?

I thought neo-Darwinism was the modern theory of evolution, not a political philosophy of consumerist capitalism! There are other parts of his talk where he advocates compromise with secularism and cooperation with science. Behind it all, as the Times seems to have detected, is a fear of Islam taking over, though this si not explicit in the text.

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