Scientific Truth v. Religious Poetry: Rowan Williams Uses Poetic Language with Richard Dawkins—and Gets a Bit Tangled Up for Doing So

In this segment from one of his documentaries, Richard Dawkins goes after the notion that all “truths” are on the same footing, then discusses evolution, the virgin birth, and poetic language with Anglican Bishop, Rowan Williams:

Of course, as an agnostic I agree completely with Richard Dawkins. You do not want scientific language subsumed under the rubric of a religious language, nor do you want poetic language (about, say, the virgin birth) obfuscating a historical question: Was there a person named Jesus born in the first century, and was he born of a virgin?

Obviously, Rowan Williams is obfuscating poetically and abusing poetry to avoid a negative conclusion about the historicity of the virgin birth. I would advocate no such moves. But I would offer this defense of Williams’s way of talking about religion: Languages are tools, and in the context to which they are properly applied, their truth value is then to be judged. You fly airplanes with scientific language, and you fly romances with poetic language. You recite Dawkins to biology students, and Shakespeare to your girlfriend or boyfriend.

By the way, I have a soft spot for Rowan Williams. He rather boldly and publicly (over the summer of 2008) bucked his church on gay relationships, and though I’m not gay myself, I appreciate his commitment to the equality and dignity of gay people.

It was a brave and difficult thing, given his position, for him to do.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Scientific Truth v. Religious Poetry: Rowan Williams Uses Poetic Language with Richard Dawkins—and Gets a Bit Tangled Up for Doing So

  1. Is religious truth antipodal to “false”? Is such truth true in the sense of logic? If so, is God limited by logic? I argue in my posts that religious truth is sui generis (i.e., unique).

  2. santitafarella says:

    A Free Spirit:

    I respect your Kantian move. I think, for example, that there are paradoxes (such as how the universe started in the first place) that require paradoxical languages by which to address them (as in religious and poetic languages).

    —Santi

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s