philosophy religion

theology, science, environment and drones

Greg Dawes

Once you accept that government can decide without due legal process which of its citizens, or perhaps worse still, other countries’ citizens, can be put to death, because you judge them to be a threat, then we are in a very dangerous situation.

Associate Professor Greg Dawes researches the philosophy of religion. We discussed the relationship between theology, science and environmental considerations. We ask if there is a theological take on climate change? and what’s deal with evangelical churches and conservative denial of climate change? The pope got an airing, as did the morality of drone strikes (see his recent article).

Talking points

Sometime in the 19th Century God disappeared. He didn’t of course disappear from popular culture but he did from science.

The nature of science: to bring God into it would would confuse levels of explanation


Many Christians today interpret the biblical command in terms of stewardship, our task today is to take care of the natural world.  But it is nonetheless true that the religous view sees the world as human beings being quite distinct from the natural world -distinct in kind, not merely in degree.    That means a different conception of nature than you might have if you see human beings as continuous with these other creatures.

These views are taken quite seriously, that there are these preordained catastrophes awaiting the human race, but God’s elite will be spared them (…therefore it doesn’t matter what we do).

There’s no reason why you can’t be a scientist can’t accept that the natural world is created by God and yet the task of science is to understand how the world operates by means of natural causes and offer natural explanations – because God has created the world to function in a way not entirely autonomously from him but at least it has its own way of operating, so there’s no contradiction there, there’s no reason why you can’t be a Christian scientist, but on some issues such as evolution, it looks like you’ve got a fairly stark choice.  if you deny evolution by natural selection or our best scientific account, then you’re holding the belief that at some point God carried out some kind of miracle to create human beings, that’s a stark choice, you either take the science or you take something opposed to the science.

Sometimes science communicators act as though presenting the facts is enough, but you have to take into account that they’re trying to fit these facts into  a system of beliefs that they already hold,  perhaps hold dearly, and that might be held quite dearly, so if the two don’t quite fit it might be the science they reject.

I was stung into writing this by the attitude of the Prime Minister.

There was a day that politicians felt they should pay at least lip service to the rule of law.  That day sadly seems to have gone.


I’m not sure people are aware of what is going on with this campaign of using drones to “take out” people judged to be threatening.

There is supposed to be a presumption of innocence, you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person is guilty of a very serious nominated crime.  The problem with these drone strikes is that there’s no legal process, the people involved never get a chance to represent themselves, and often it is not clear that they are guilty of any particular crime at all, they’re just regarded as suspects who might one day cause trouble for us.

“signature strikes”  – targeting any male of military age.

The Prime Minister’s use of the word prosecution was odd. A prosecution is a legal process.   The only process here is that the US President has decided with a group of advisors that these are the people to be killed. And sometimes their names aren’t even known.

(A memo that it might be legal) is a pretty dodgy basis to claim legality when on the face of it seems contrary to all principles of natural justice, indeed contrary to the US constitution.

(previously they used hit men on the quiet) The fact they felt compelled to do it on the quiet was at least something, because they were at least paying lip service to the rule of law.  When you call them out, call them to account and say ‘you’re not living up to your own standards here’.   When we abandon those standards, and give governments the authority to effectively do what they like, then we are on very dangerous ground

(How are they getting away with it?)  These are people that are a long way away, in countries we don’t naturally identify with, these are people we don’t instinctively identify with – they seem different from us – a geographical and cultural divide.

The US considers themselves to be under attack, but this language of war is deceptive.  To describe this as a war, as it has been since (9/11), but it is not in the traditional sense. And even if it were, there are rules of war.



Sidney Harris: Then a miracle occurs.

Living under drones pdf, Armed Drones: President Obama’s Weapon of Choice graphic.

Left Behind series