The word is out: if you’re religious you cannot possibly appreciate genetics in all its glory, a glory that is inseparable from the Darwinian theory of evolution. I was watching Nerdstock, a Christmas programme for non-religious people on BBC4 last night with at first some curiosity, later with quiet amazement at the burgeoning audacity of the atheist movement, and at last with a scratchy head. The latter reaction may be due to dandruff, but I feel it was more from the unresolved knotted thoughts on the irreconcilability of religion and science. Nerdstock was a love-in for self-proclaimed nerds of the scientific endeavour, who were falling over themselves praising some hazified concepts of evolutionary genetics.
It occurred to me that the atheist movement in Britain wants us to know that in lieu of religion, there is science; Darwinian science and physics to be exact. Science – for the enlightened – is now the antithesis of religion, or some may argue a neo-religion for intellectuals and those who fancy adopting the image. The device for last night’s programme was comedy, taking off the sting and heat of the controversy raised by the atheist bus campaign and the “Please don’t label me” campaign against faith cattle-branding on children. The device, I have to admit, was effective (I was at times amused) but purposefully deployed in smug contrast against humour-less religious folk. Comedienne Shappi Khorsandi gave the best stand-up, though her material was funniest when it was about the groundlessness of the term “mixed-race”. Yes, the beauty of genetics is that it can prove racists and political constructionists wrong.
But genetics is not something simply to be gushed at, something host Robin Ince felt he needed to demonstrate in his quasi-hallelujah moment about him and his son (“Whenever I look at my son, I see genetics. Genetics made him so special!, etc. etc.”). Being in ecstatic awe of the world in pseudo-scientific terms veers spookily into the realm of religious fanaticism, except with science in place of God as the figure to worship, I think. So okay, genetics is amazing, but so are social-conditioning and environmental impingement on the development of people. Biological determinism is not amazing and not 100% valid, and therefore genetics is not all that.
Where does this leave the religiously-disaffected with no interest in Darwinian theory let alone science, and those like me, who does not feel challenged by the idea of being connected to other lifeforms (genetics has made that an undeniable fact) and praises the Almighty for making the genius of nature possible? Well, not in this small exclusive club for both the scientific and scientistically-inclined it seems, which leaves much of the rest of the world to us. Yes, the rest of us live in an irrational mess with a disinterest in how we came to be; the corporeal beings at the mercy of the switchboard of genes. Nerdstock is an amusing interrogation of the non-existence of God, in which the godless install nature as the surrogate transcendental being greater than humankind, an entity we struggle to fathom completely. Sounds familiar?