26 July 2013

Oxford’s Professorship of Science and Religion

A year ago I applied for the University of Oxford’s recently created Professorship of Science and Religion. This was set up to investigate
questions raised for Theology by the natural and human and social sciences (including moral and social questions), and on the impact of Theology on the natural, human and social sciences.
I was not shortlisted for this post, even though I have plenty of ideas about how aspects of what is called ‘religious’ thought might have implications for science, and vice versa.

I think – and my colleagues at Oxford Forum agree – that if Oxford was genuinely interested in making interdisciplinary progress on the overlap between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ then the individuals responsible for filling this post should at least have wanted to meet me to find out what ideas I have for research and what I might do if offered the position.

In fact of course, it is doubtful that such motivation exists in modern academia, at a level capable of having an impact on such decisions.

Far more important is that mechanical rules are observed. For example, the candidate should have at least so many publications under their belt, they should have at least x years’ ‘experience’ at other institutions. This regardless of whether they have actually contributed anything significant to the advancement of knowledge, or are likely to be capable of doing so in the future.
The successful applicant will be an outstanding scholar, with an international reputation and distinguished research profile in Science and Religion ...
said the advertisement for the post. I suspect that the ‘research’ carried out by the candidates whom they did interview has made negligible contribution to the understanding of anything of significance, though no doubt it satisfied appearances. Something was written which seemed to have at least a nominal connection with religion and may have looked vaguely clever. That anything ground-breaking was said, however, is highly unlikely.

If opportunity is to depend on previous publications, and on ‘experience’ within the system, then those who have been rejected (and implicitly repeatedly rejected, as all their efforts to gain reinstatement have been ignored or opposed) are condemned to permanent exclusion. This has been my position. The difficulties of supporting myself and an independent academic institution, without status or funding, has effectively prevented any but the most minimal expression of my views.

The present attitudes to science and religion are determined by the most fundamental unexamined assumptions in modern philosophy and psychology, and realistic analysis of these assumptions is taboo.

The area covered by the professorship is probably particularly prone to the principle that nothing genuinely progressive should get done. In subjects such as physics it is necessary to pretend that progress is aimed at. The desire that the status quo be maintained has to be kept at a subconscious level. In ‘science & religion’, by contrast, the goal of keeping things safe and unthreatening may well be openly espoused by those in charge.