Letters - 17 May 2019

From science and religion to a letter from the editor

A testing proposition

Dave Dight’s letter (3 May) goes a long way to fulfil the need to accept both science and religion.

Could I suggest a matching strategy that could move us all a little further in the same direction? The basic suggestion is to reconcile the ‘two modes of cognition’, namely ‘I believe’ and ‘I know’.

Knowledge, including spiritual knowledge, comes from scientific endeavour, the aim of which is to establish ‘what is’. The process starts with observations, then propositions and probe systems.

Propositions cannot be proved, but they can be tested. If one survives a bombardment of tests, its truth is accepted until, and if, it is successfully challenged. This, in a nutshell, is the scientific method.

Beliefs cannot be proved wrong, as their ingredients are not available for testing. In this category we have religious beliefs. Here’s one of mine as in the Advent hymn: ‘Lo, he comes with clouds descending, once for ev’ry sinner slain. Thousand, thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train. Alleluia!’

This is not wishful thinking, it is a biblical belief which my spiritual mode of cognition can accept as being meaningful and true, though in reality it may well be not true. So, the magnificent beauty of both religion and science can contribute to the wholeness, integrity, wellbeing and passion of those entrenched in either camp.

For me, as a trained scientist, Dave, you have unlocked the padlock on the door opening onto a room for genuine and sincere religious meditation.

Peter Boyce

What canst thou say?

I grew up in a 1970s commune knowing two individuals who transitioned sex, one from a woman to a man and the other a man to a woman, both of whom were lovingly accepted by the community (though sadly this was not always the case with their birth families or society at large).

As a community we developed a good understanding of the trials and hardships involved in transitioning. However, there are a few things that deeply trouble me about the recent politicisation of transgender, which I feel has most especially adversely affected women, girls and lesbians born biologically female.

I was shocked and distressed by the events which took place outside Oxford Meeting House in April last year, when two entirely separate groups of women leaving the building were shouted at and called names by misinformed trans activists. Many of the women exiting the building were rape survivors and extremely vulnerable. It is not OK to bully or intimidate anyone by name-calling or using misogynistic language, for whatever cause. As nonviolent Quakers we must be crystal clear on this.

In a world of increasing polarisation and fear, it is vital that as a Society we, as Friends, respectfully discern how best to honour our dearly held testimonies of peace, equality and truth for all; that we really listen to and hear one another, and that we create a mutually respectful and safe space for debate, without fear of name-calling or intimidation.

Nancy Thompson

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