Magazine article The Spectator

The Odds Are on God

Magazine article The Spectator

The Odds Are on God

Article excerpt


IN America, the culture wars are so hardfought that there is always a great deal of energetic sartorial signalling going on. 'I am a slacker geek, with closet literary ambitions'; 'I am an upper-middle-class golf-club member who lives in a gated community and can wear diamonds during the day with impunity'; 'I am a fierce lesbian activist'; `I'm an aesthete who wears only Yamamoto'. And so on, one can note, all the tedious day long.

So it is with some relief that I find myself in the nave of a Methodist church at Seattle Pacific University, way over on the utopian edge of the continent, among people making no sartorial effort whatsoever except to be pleasant and not in my face. In fact, I could have slipped back in time. The young men beside me in the pew are fresh-faced and wearing 'Canoe', a simple scent popular among East and West Coast preppies in the mid-1960s. They are polite, they make affable jokes, and the sexual-frisson level despite a church full of 22-year-olds - is remarkably low.

It is also probably safe to say that practically the only public place in the United States where you can leave, with confidence, a laptop on the back seat of an unlocked, fairly new car is on the campus of a Christian university. Doors remain unlocked, 23-year-olds smilingly give way in traffic, and pasted to dorm windows are sayings such as `Don't make out in front of our window. It makes us ill'. This modesty is enormously appealing.

There are 2,000 or so such private universities across America: devout, orthodox, on the small side, some with respected academic programmes, some not. Seattle Pacific is respected most particularly for its liberal arts programme and its C.S. Lewis Institute. This, in tandem with the Discovery Institute, is on the night I am there kicking off a conference called `Cosmos and Creator: God of Physics, God of Astronomy'. Speaking is the Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, past president of Queens' College, Cambridge, physicist and Anglican priest. If you think you've slipped through a colonial time-warp as well as a linear one, you would be right.

This slippage is exactly what its critics most hate about the parallel universe of devout American Christians. This world has, in the last decade or so, developed an increasingly respected intellectual culture, which thrives most particularly in what we are beginning to call the red states, the states that voted for Bush, located in the great fat middle of the country. The science that the Revd Dr Polkinghorne, Oxford's Dr Peter Hodgson, the youthful Dr Stephen Meyer and Father Robert Spitzer, cosmologist and president of the local Jesuit University, are discussing is considered by official culture (read the blue states) to be the intellectual Trojan Horse of religious conservatives. This science, they believe, aims to rejig the culture in a major way, along (naturally enough) more spiritual, conservative lines, and, most sinisterly, plans in some indeterminate way to link religion and old-fashioned morality to government.

It is hard, however, to say who is rejigging whom. While 90 per cent of the members of the National Academy of Science consider themselves atheists, 90 per cent of Americans believe that God created life directly or by guiding a gradual process. Nevertheless, 'government' or publicly funded schools cannot teach Creationism. That battle has been won. But there is now a science on its side - backed by dozens of respected mainstream academics trained at Oxbridge or Yale - that posits reasonably, using logic and argument, that the weight of evidence is that there just might be an overarching intelligent hand at work in our universe. That science is demonised, and some teachers who attempt to outline its most general parameters have been fired, demoted or fined. They, in turn, are made martyrs by the Discovery Institute, which is funded in large measure by a family foundation that is decidedly Christian in scope, set up by a couple of Ronald Reagan's aides. …

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