And on the Third Day Faraday Rose From The Tomb…


This was not my intended blog, but another reactive one to some of the comments I received about the last one. For those new to this, I am writing a post a day, many of which are me working out what I think I think about something. They are written hastily, messily but passionately. Sorry for the grammar and punctuation chaos. 


As I presumed while I was writing yesterday’s blog post on science, a few have commented that it sounded “a bit like a religion”.

Religious promoters and science decriers have an advantage using the positive PR for faith groups, who rationalise that so many human endeavours, social behaviours and private contemplations are “like religion really”. I have already trodden in religion to some minds by mentioning contemplation, hang on, isn’t that what monks may do, and thus, thinking about things “is a bit like religion”.

Enjoying a sunset, wondering about a butterfly, joining a chess club, all of these are “a bit like religion”. Anything that involves more than five people gathering together in a common pursuit is just a shade away from extremist Islam or evangelical creationists. A deep interest in astronomy is a similar character trait to shooting nurses outside an abortion clinic. I think this woolliness in language does pretty much everyone involved a disservice. 

While debating about religion last month, one of my opponents said that “football was a religion” while the 9/11 acts of terrorism were cultural and political actions not religious. 

One comment below my post said that “wanting answers has a deeply religious origin”, but I think this is putting things back to front. I don’t believe (oh no, i just typed believe, that is a “religious” word, so this must mean that the following words are “a bit like religion” too).

But I do not believe that religion came first and then humans started asking why there was thunder and sharks and crescent moons and pustulous death. The questions exist free of religion, religion was the tool that gave answers and then the muddle got worse. Once religion gave the answers, and the priests became the kingmakers and power possessors, then new answers, based on telescopes and experiments, were frowned upon. Sometimes it went beyond frowning to stoning, impaling or burning. 

Though I can understand why people want a belief in gods, hopes of an afterlife, and the idea that there is something beyond human comprehension that constructs and maintains the universe, the succour of something that may hint at a grand universal purpose, I do find it difficult to understand why some people still believe in some almighty or other. 

I don’t have what it takes to make the leap to imagining a deity. My limitations make it hard for me to see why people who have received much education and are well-read in science and philosophy can still find a place in their predominantly rational mind for God or gods. 

It is these friends of mine that most often give me that “do you see?” look if I mention a something that I find beautiful or moving. I was once at the top of canyon, it was dawn, and that tingling sensation, the speechless moment of seeing the magnificent was unfolding, and my religious friend looked at me and said, “do you see?” 

The experience was thrilling , the removal of all usual life hubbub and detritus, but I could see nothing that insinuated, “and thus there is a god”. If anything, I found the idea that behind all this was mystical being with a hand crank and blueprints diluted the delight. 


If nothing else is forthcoming, the inexplicable does not immediately require the nonsensical as an answer, some things can be left until we have the tools and knowledge required to understand, sometimes the understanding may not even be that important.

I am afraid I think religion takes credit when no credit is required and it enhances nothing.

People have said to me, “imagine a world without religion, think of all the glorious art that wouldn’t exist”. I think, imagine the variety of paintings that would exist if the popes and the  preachers didn’t hold the pursestrings and keep on demanding another bloody painting of death on the cross or life in a manger. Painting may have grown out enacting hunts on cave walls, as some totemistic behaviour perhaps, but once painting was up and running, it’s not as if artists would have stopped had they found out it wasn’t a requirement to please the gods and their representatives on earth.

As for the idea that gathering together with a common interest immediately makes something a religion, that is surely poppycock. Is religion really just an alibi for get to together, no more than the gathering of train enthusiasts at Crewe station?

Much of the “isn’t that a bit like religion” ignores the historical behaviour of dominant religious groups, many of whom weren’t all about the joy of existence, the wondering about the universe, and the need to find a nice place for a get together. If science wanted to take lessons from religion, it may involve a greater level of threat should you depart or question the dogma (predicts blog post comments about how climate change scientists are beaten and silenced if they depart from the official propaganda, creationists are now banned from being heads of depts of evolutionary biology etc etc and so on and so on). Science will be the new religion when those who follow it are told that a step out of line will lead to their atoms being eternally smashed together in the seventh ring of the Largest of Hadron Collider or there are more sing songs about Faraday our eternal father at the Royal Society.  

My Importance of Being Interested Tour is coming to Manchester, Radlett, Bristol,Sheffield, Birmingham and many more towns. Details of those and Christmas shows at Hammersmith with Brian Cox HERE

The Cosmic Genome app now incl Ben Goldacre, Helen Czerski, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox and 50 more is HERE 

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57 Responses to And on the Third Day Faraday Rose From The Tomb…

  1. sam says:

    Hope you are not calling me a “Religious promoter”. you tabloid hack, if you are you will be hearing from my Legal Team!

    • robinince says:

      nope, if i was I would have named you. How narcissistic to think it is all about you. And to think, I thought you were different.

    • Surely ‘tabloid hack’ is an insult? How is ‘religious promoter’ an insult, it just describes someone who argues for religion, doesn’t it? Are you insulted by that description? do you wish to make it clear that you do not promote religion? Oh good.

      • sam says:

        Joyce, why do you find nuance so hard, saying science has echoes of Christianity, is NOT saying its the same. I think most of the comments on here seem more part of the Humanist faith, than science. As Steve Jones says science is a broad church full of narrow minds

    • Holly Boorman says:

      Religion does not commit acts of violence or make Nations genocidal. If there was no religion, and yes John Lennon, I can imagine it- there would still be wars and horrific acts of terror visited upon the defenceless and innocent. People commit these acts, not religion. Do you really think there would be ‘World Peace’ without it? No…we would just come up with some other pathetic excuse to kill and hate each other and to justify humanity’s lust for blood.

  2. Rhoda says:

    One of my favourite memories is Iain M Banks on The South Bank Show saying something that may have implied that science is the new religion, and Melvyn Bragg becoming more and more enraged and finally squeaking “so you think we should all go to church and worship TEST TUBES?!”
    But yes, I too find it genuinely baffling that religion is still accepted, and almost mandatory for politicians and world leaders.

  3. In general I find the difference is what is asked that separates religion from science. Where religion tends to ask why, science tends to ask how. And of course the other difference is the absolutes, religion has many where science has none.

    To the religious god defiantly exists, where as with science Evolution is the best we have until someone can offer a better explanation backed by an equal or better body of evidence.

    • Sim-O says:

      The difference between science and religion is, if a religionists met god they’d prostrate themselves in worship.

      If a scientist met god, he’d ask God how he did it.

      • Louise Nicholson says:

        How about “she’d ask God how he did it ” !
        God might say… ‘on your knees, (go to the ant) and I’ll tell you ! ‘

    • Pete UK says:

      The religious might as why and scientists seek how instead of making up some nonsense that is later disproved. (Galileo)

      Or does the sun really revolve around the flat earth?

    • Jamie says:

      Sadly you have misunderstood and misrepresented science. Surely this piece has explained that what you have just written holds no truth?

    • Tom says:

      Richard Dawkins made a good point about the How/Why divide. Not all Why questions have an answer, never mind one that someone who claims to know the answer tells you. Such as “why are unicorns hollow”… Also to the religious ‘god’ does not definitely exist. To the ancient Greeks and Romans there were many, many gods. To most religious people these days Zeus is not real.

  4. Maureen says:

    Simon has made a good point.

    Thousands of years ago humans asked questions but had no means of finding out the answers, so they put the mystery together with the sense of awe they sometimes felt and called it God. Problem is, once He was brought into existence to explain things, He rapidly became the master, not the servant, and His word became Law for all time, never to be questioned.

    While the evolution of scientific thinking brought us the tools to answer questions in a more rational way, and the freedom to change our views if empirical evidence points in a new direction.

    • williamjparry says:

      The truth is not and never has been subject to democratic thinking; and that’s what the religious too often forget. Whether or not religious myths served a purpose at one time doesn’t make them “true” just because a great number of people still happen to believe in them. Faith is one thing. Reality is another. Whether those two aspects of life line up in the mind of a religious person is determined by their worldview; and a sense of insecurity about that worldview is what causes them to decry science as being “like religion.”

      There is a great deal of beauty to be found in “the evolution of scientific thinking” you mentioned, but it seems like the appreciation of that beauty is sadly lost on many of the faithful.

  5. Reblogged this on somuchandsomuch and commented:
    I have been stymied by my own problems for a while. This expresses what I have been unable to while this cloud keeps me quiet. Well done!

  6. Doesn’t it arise from the failure to understand what science is? – ie not results, tech or even the models but how they’re arrived at. I got my physics degree without knowing what science was and remember agreeing science was “just another point of view” until I read Feyman’s character of physical law and felt srsly stupid for a long while after. And if you show passion for science, well, case closed ‘cos passion for life is owned by the mystics.

  7. Dave Schofield says:

    Science ‘is a bit like religion’ in the same way a screw driver is a bit like a labradoodle.

    All religions claim to hold the whole truth, and offer anecdotal evidence as proof.

    Science expressly denies knowing all there is to know, indeed if we are looking for a doctrine, it is that we will never know everything about anything, and amen to that brother.

    The highest compliment one could pay the prophet Einstein, praise be upon him, is to prove him wrong.

    Query the validity of the word of any number of gods and blasphemy! is the cry.

    I would like to spend more time on this, but I have a plug to re-wire. Now where did I put that dog?

  8. Steve says:


    I love your insightful posts and your honesty in you thinking. I haven’t read many of your posts but have stumbled across a number over time and always enjoyed reading them. This may be something which you have previously discussed and if this is the case I do apologies.

    I’m probably going against the masses here as I am a Christian, your thoughts are mainly based on this concept of religion and I agree, they way it can be described, purely a group of people being together is “like religion”. My person opinion is I can’t stand use of the concept as much as you or many others.

    I became a Christian though means which were not directly influenced by the church or other christian friends. Maybe some Christian aspects had seeped into my brain when I went to church as a child but at my point of becoming a Christian I had long past that. Instead I can only explain I had senses, feelings,what I could best describe as an intense moment of some sort of understanding and I came out with the acceptance, that there had to be a God. (No drugs were involved in this story)

    Either way, however people wish to perceive why those things happen, I have a story of becoming a Christian which has nothing to do with Religion and I believe that is what the Gospels teach too. I believe I have a relationship with God. I go to church to meet up with people living with the same belief, to share, encourage and support. That, in my opinion, as much as meeting up at a train station in Crewe, is not Religion. My understanding is Jesus spends a fair part of the Gospels telling people to stop being so bloody religious, instead get on with loving people. He people to stop and buy some food for a homeless person, spending time and investing in people. He doesn’t teach to condemn, hurt, exclude and kill.

    This leads me to think when people consider what Religion has done, I struggle to apply those considerations to my Christian faith. Religion can exist outside of faith, people can say they are Christian for the power to implement rules. People can believe they are Christian and use the power to implement rules which do not follow the fundamental commandment of the Gospel to love. I see all this things and can’t stand Religion and can’t stand a huge number of “Chirstians” but I do have my faith and the Bible is fundamental to it.

    I understand the consideration that religion came out of society to create understanding and it obviously does hence we have more than one religion in the world, yet I also have my same belief that God was behind the mix to create society in the first place.

    Either way I just wanted to express that something being “religious” or using the term “like religious” I struggle to apply to my Christian experience and beliefs in anyway. Bit rambly but my thoughts in resposne, I hope you don’t mind.

    Kind Regards


    • robinince says:

      thanks for this Steve. Don’t worry, you’re not the only Christian who reads these, even the occasional pastor comes along at times. Always interested to hear others considered opinion.

  9. Pete says:

    If all feelings of ‘awe and wonder’ are ‘religious’ then those that have a collective belief in supernatural agents need to find another word to describe their activities.

    It’s like saying ‘falling in love’ is the same as ‘owning the romantic comedies of Matthew McConaughey on Blu-Ray’. You can enjoy both, if you like, but one doesn’t necessitate the other.

  10. Pete says:

    P.S. That’s not meant to demean people who have a more thoughtful approach to their religion, nor is it to endorse the romantic comedies of Matthew McConaughey on Blu-Ray available from all good retail outfits now.

  11. sputuk says:

    I have a new fav quote now from this article which briefly and clearly encapsulates a philosophy I relate to: “the inexplicable does not immediately require the nonsensical as an answer”

    The other distinction I would make which separated science from being “like a religion” is the number of axioms. Religions have many, science only really one – that there is a physical reality which is observable in a way where consistent behaviour can infer future behaviour (or something similar and more thought out).

  12. So you’re predicting blog post comments now are you? Isn’t that a bit like prophesy… 😉

  13. Dan Jensen says:

    Words, words, words. What we have here is bickering over definitions. Religion is reverence. Religion is the traditional attempt of humans to explain the world. Religion is a jealous god. Religion is a suicide bomber. Religion is a murdered soccer player.

    For what I know of religion, I cannot imagine a world where it never occurred. Not a human world, at any rate. It isn’t good or evil, it’s human.

    Most of this at its heart seems to be about us and them. We need to have a chasm there between the good guys and the bad guys. What is science but a social institution constructed to attempt to explain the world? Funny that so many mama’s basement atheists think the same of religion. Still, though it be a fallible, human endeavor, it remains a beautiful thing, and yes, a sacred thing. The fact that I am “religious” about science does not make me a blind worshiper of the institution. I know that it’s very fallible, but I regard it as sacred just the same. It’s only human, but that’s the beauty of it. I like to say I’m religious but not spiritual, because I live my life in reverence without believing in souls, gods, and ghosts. But this species of simple humanity seems to be beyond most “new atheists.” They seem to need a Satan in their cosmogony to get along in the world.

  14. adsnads1976 says:

    Another thought provoking piece of writing that articulates a great deal of the frustration I have struggled with since first slamming into the brick wall of nonsense imposed upon me by a girlfriend’s fundamentalist parents. Keep up the good work sir!

  15. Nigel says:

    Not “Why does science sound like religion?” but more “how does science sound like religion”. To a scientist, even an amateur like myself, we would look at a butterfly and wonder “how do the thousands of scales on that wing make so many wonderful colours?” and then digress into refraction of white light and varied surface textures. To a religionite they would simply state that “God” made the butterfly so for his pleasure. There are no absolutes in science, only theories that have yet to be disproved.

  16. sam says:

    So pointless calling oneself a Atheist, I do worry about the rise insecurities on both sides, we are seeing christian nurses feeling the need to wear huge wood crosses hanging round necks, and atheists feeling the need advertise on buses. The uk is agnostic by nature, both sides would do well to remember this. As for science, I never underestimate it, good or bad

    • Alan says:

      You can be an agnostic and an atheist. Take this statement, for example: “I do not believe that any gods exist. I cannot be 100% percent certain.”

  17. jwkuyser says:

    Religion and science both attempt to explain how our world works and define it’s rules. Some religions claim to be the absolute truth. Scientists know that scientific theories are only our best approximation and expects it’s models to be improved on in the future.

  18. Pingback: Religion and Science | Jake Kuyser

  19. Rich Beer says:

    Science is nothing like religion. It is the pursuit of knowledge based on the experimental method and it relies on frequently being wrong about nearly everything.

    Religion, on the other hand, pretends very hard to be like science. It pretends to be a search for truth, when actually it is a search for certainty. It pretends to answer the fundamental questions, when actually it ignores all of the available evidence. It pretends to be about knowledge, when actually it is about comfort.

    Unfortunately, science champions a way of thinking that just so happens to be the antithesis of religion, and therefore religion has made science its mortal enemy. That’s really the only thing they have in common. It’s not science’s fault, and science is not ‘a bit like religion’ just because it is replacing it.

  20. stephen says:

    Sounds to me like religion is something outside of your experience therefore you should prob leave it alone and stick to what you do understand.
    That you find it incomprehensible that intelligent people believe in these non scientific things is a good indicator for yourself that maybe its you that does not understand rather than them.
    After all the reasons not to have religious beliefs are very simple and easy for anyone to understand.

  21. stephen says:

    Sounds to me like religion is something outside of your experience therefore you should prob leave it alone and stick to what you do understand.

    That you find it incomprehensible that intelligent people believe in these non scientific things is a good indicator for yourself that maybe its you that does not understand rather than them.

    After all the reasons not to have religious beliefs are very simple and easy for anyone to understand.

  22. sam says:

    Science is not religion, but believing that science makes humans better people is a religious faith, if it were a scientific theory it would have been abandoned years ago

    • Rich Beer says:

      That’s what’s known as a straw-man argument, where you claim the other side of the debate has said something, and then argue against it, when they didn’t say it at all.

      Science doesn’t claim to make humans better people. Science isn’t a movement. It’s just a thing. It’s a way of looking at the world and trying to figure it out. Plenty of science has made people’s *lives* better, sure. Almost everything you do every day is brought to you by science, from your TV to your car and the keyboard you’re smashing your big fists on, not to mention the medicine that will keep you alive longer than any of your ancestors.

      Religion certainly claims to make humans better people, and maybe it does. Religiously motivated violence is a blight upon the world, but there are many charities with their roots in religion, so who knows what the net effect is? That’s an argument for another time (although I would urge you to look up Stephen Fry’s contribution to the debate “Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?” on YouTube).

      But don’t think for one minute that science makes any such equivalent claim. The most science will claim is that it helps people to understand themselves and the world they live in. It is just a tool. What you do with the information is up to you.

  23. sam says:

    Funny you mention straw- man, then insinuate that I think that the Catholic church is a force for good. Thank you for the Fry YouTube link, I don’t really rate him as a deep thinker, but he is a very talented performer. I never said science says it does make people better, I said the opposite. some Humanists like Pinker Dennet Grayling and many others do believe in human progress through science, but that’s just faith, not science. As for my “big fists” I’m a craftsman and suspect my ancestors could have been too, and maybe they lived to a ripe old age, who knows I may get run over by a car while delicately typing this into my “smart phone” 🙂

    • Rich Beer says:

      Fair enough! Science definitely has it’s hazards. I guess that’s why police actually have a name for people who get into accidents because of their technology: Podestrians. Good luck dodging that car 🙂

  24. I think it all is inclusive, depending on ones pers pective….

  25. mark reeves says:

    Hi Rob. Great post, I like you bit on religion versus scientific endeavour and what came first. I have recently written a book, it is about the science and history of rock climbing, but the second chapter explores the idea that curiosity is the key to not just climbing but human development. I used some research from caltech, google search ‘Curiosity: the wick that keeps the candle of learning burning’ a great read as to why curiosity helped humanity. Alternatively if you’d like to read my little book. I’d be happy to send you a PDF. Or you can buy a copy at:

  26. Cynthia Waitman says:

    Brillant! I choose to believe in certain things but I’m not religiously bent on anything because I’m human. I could always be wrong.

  27. Iain fairless says:

    I completely agree with what you say !! Science is a tool to understand not through blind “faith” but with provable facts , the two are separate of each other that will conflict over the years about who is right .

    After a long chat with a friend we agree that science and religion are answering the same question but by different means – religion is using a ancient view point that requires you to not question the established order .

    Science encourages questions and promotes any effort to further understanding of all things by showing people the facts , answers that are provable .

    As a person with a questioning mind religion is a dead mechanism to me that does nothing more than destroys mankind’s true state of a questioning curious mind that wants to know what’s out there and why things work.

    • sputuk says:

      I’m with you – but small point: there are very few “facts” in science either. There is evidence and current understanding, but facts are quite scarce. Even things like the speed of light is subject to assumptions and models which someone might come along and point out somewhere where we’re missing something in our understanding of what we’re observing which could change things. Facts tend to go hand in hand with dogma, which is anathema to the scientific method. I once thought that the dictionary definition of facts should be : things a lot of people think they know 🙂

  28. Mike O'Dell says:

    I don’t understand why this either/or argument about science and religion bubbles up repeatedly. There really is no comparison. To claim that science is a little bit like religion is like claiming Charles Darwin is like Father Christmas. Sure they both have beards but one helped reveal the foundation of one of the most important natural processes, the other is handy to get your kids to behave in the months running up to Christmas. ‘Religion’ encompasses a range of human aspects. I suspect it’s root was the same as science, endeavouring to explain patterns in nature, and as you point out, later co-opted as a method to preserve control and political power. It also appears to provide solace and community cohesion. As a method of observation it has been superceded by the success of science (no government is going to fund the church to pray for a nuclear reactor). As a method of Political control religion seems to persist, though I wonder if that is sustainable. It’s hard to imagine a community maintained by the pursuit of science, I can’t think of an example. And I hope no one ever looks towards science for lessons on how to behave towards one another.
    As far as as I can see, there is no intersection between the two subjects. We rely on science as our best method for investigating the Universe. Religion is an entirely different arena, valuable to those who enjoy the framework it provides for leading a good life and the ready made, international community it supplies. Comparison between the two leads nowhere.

    • Rich Beer says:

      Why do you hope no-one ever looks towards science for lessons on how to behave towards one another?

      Leaving aside psychiatry and all related therapy, just take a look back at the history of our species and the violence, murder and war that has defined the modern world. Are you seriously suggesting we’re as good as it gets already? Can we not use science to understand these destructive, divisive impulses and see if we can’t do something about them?

      • Mike O'Dell says:

        You would have to convince me that Psychiatry is a science in the first instance. I was illustrating one aspect of religion – the guide book to good behaviour – and I couldn’t think of a similar example offered by science. Then the thought of a scientist emerging from a laboratory waving a piece of paper exclaiming they had found the solution to human violent tendencies or how to make us all love one another made me shiver. If you think we will find the fix to warfare in our DNA then I think you expectations on what science can resolve are over inflated.

      • richbeer says:

        That would seem to be a misunderstanding of what DNA is. It is everything; every impulse you were born with and every potential behaviour you have. Nurture is only possible because we have evolved the underlying mechanisms to allow it. DNA is the beginning of everything. We don’t need a religious guide book to tell us how to behave. It just tells us in writing what we all instinctively already know.

        Beyond that, you’re also ignoring neurology. We already understand a fair amount about how the brain works and we know that brain damage can completely change someone’s personality. We can stick electrodes in someone’s brain and successfully cure their suicidal depression. We can rein in mania with a simple chemical like lithium added to diet.

        Don’t tell me science can’t effect behaviour. We are giant bags of biology and chemistry. That’s all. Of course we’re going to find the cure to warfare with science. What else could it be? We are in charge of our own evolution now. Given time, we can do almost anything. There’s no point waiting for God to come and fix us and I, for one, am not content to let us spend the rest of our species’ existence being as primitive, selfish and violent as we are now.

      • Mike O'Dell says:

        I appear to have misrepresented myself. I do not have a religion, and, like you, I also do not need a religious guide book to tell me how to behave. But a vast proportion of the world’s population do I am not about to dispose of that in favour of a dietary supplement. As for finding a cure for warefare, I find your /faith/ in science naive and scary. I hope /to God/ that you never hold a position of influence in Government when they start looking for advice on whether or not to put additives into the water supply.
        I, for one, am more than content to let us spend the rest of species’ existence being as developed, altruistic and passive as we are now, as long as Scientists never has the audacity to assume the role of a god over their subjects.

  29. Great, now what about the logic of language – Socratic Dialogue??

  30. Alex Spears says:

    Science is nothing like religion, people! Tim Minchin said it best on Storm “Science adjusts it’s beliefs based on what’s observed
    Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved”

  31. After reading all of the above on an early Sunday morning one of my favourite songs popped into my head…please feel free to debate but don’t take it personally

    Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – God Is In The House

  32. Rebecca says:

    Hi Robin, stumbled across your blog and am enjoying it hugely.
    I found this particularly striking:
    ‘If nothing else is forthcoming, the inexplicable does not immediately require the nonsensical as an answer, some things can be left until we have the tools and knowledge required to understand, sometimes the understanding may not even be that important.’
    I am a Christian, used to be an atheist. I think that religion of any stripe seeks to explain fundamentals of human existence but can only go so far. Your quote above is a very good way of summarising that gap. Or as Paul has it:
    1 Corinthians 13:12
    ‘For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.’

  33. Pingback: Robin Ince on science and religion | Philosophy at Guthlaxton

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