Analysis programmes

I was very disappointed to see that Richard Dawkins had felt obliged to withdraw some of his comments about the role of religion in this issue. To me his original comments rang truer than many of the prosaic psychological insights offered elsewhere and have been chillingly confirmed by the recent revelations in the infamous letter written by one of the WTC hijackers to the rest of his demonic crew. "Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face," the document says. "You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life."

No mention of 72 virgins, true, but a startling indication of just how powerful religion can be in its corrosive ability to distort and corrupt people's thinking. A perfect example too of why scientific thinking is utterly at odds with religious belief because anybody who thinks scientifically would automatically qu estion everything about the absurd notions harbored by these terrorists concerning God and the afterlife.

And although many religious people would denounce the terrorsists' ideas, Dawkins is surely right to point out that it's the whole mode of religious thought that creates these terrible dangers by brainwashing people with blind faith. As the guardians of reasoned thought, scientists have a special responsibility in impressing on the wider public the distinction between the rationality of science and the irrationality of religion. It would be good to see more scientists stand out decisively against religion instead of, as so many seem to do, pretending to see some middle way in which both can happily coexist.

[Ed. Note: In my first email to regular Edge contributors I mentioned that emails I had received from members of the Edge community (Richard Dawkins, Paul Davies, and Martin Rees, as well as a conversation with Kevion Kelly) helped me to decide to run this project. These messages, which were prior to the "WHAT NOW" Question Project were abbreviated in my Web introduction above. Richard Dawkins Guardian piece has been available all along at the link above, and, he has also provided a new comment as well — click here. He did not withdraw the comments you refer to.

Your point about the importance of scientists and religious thought is well taken. Nicholas Humphrey, Mike Csikszentmihalyi, Dave Myers, J.C. Herz, Stewart Brand, Tim Taylor, and Richard Dawkins, among others all have strong views on the subject. Plans are now underway for an new Edge question project to address this set of issues in the next couple of months. Best, JB]