On Science and Religion, part 2
Rather than respond to some of the previous wall comments with more comments, I thought I’d start a fresh post so I can expand my thoughts relating to your discussions. This post is based entirely on the discussion found in the comments here.
Justine- Thanks for your thoughts. I don’t think that science functions as a religion, and those who treat it as one propagate the confusion underpinning the clash between faith and science. Good science requires no leaps of faith, and is not in the business of explaining on faith that which cannot be studied. Connecting logical sequential gaps with leaps of faith is fundamentally unscientific. The scientific method cannot answer some things (staunch rationalists would add the word “yet”, but not me), and does not pretend that it has absolute answers for them. Quantum physics sometimes creates hypothetical scenarios in order to derive “real” theories from them and test current hypotheses against them (i.e. imaginary numbers in math, multidimensionality, string theory), and I think this is the closest thing to faith that we see in science.
In bringing up quantum physics I’m realizing that the breadth of “Science” is about as broad as the breadth of “religion.” I am enjoying the references to eastern and native religions in our discussion, and would suggest on the same grounds that “Science” should also be viewed as a heterogenous institution. All science is grounded in observation-based logical inquiry and the scientific method. Similarly, religion is grounded in the core notion of the existence of a guiding supernatural entity. These are apples and oranges, so the similarity stops there, but it’s worth considering. I mention this because in a way, letting quantum physics represent all of science is like using Buddhism to represent all of religion. Anyway, this is starting to treat science as a religion, which is deplorable, and, well, unscientific.
Getting back to the comment that “There are some things still unexplained by the scientific approach.” I have 2 good analogies, one from a Vassar Cognitive Science professor, and the other from David Wolpe, a prominent Rabbi and speaker: 1) You can’t teach your dog calculus, no matter how well you train it, and even if it is the smartest dog in the world. Now, why do we assume that humans are at the end of the spectrum of cognitive understanding, and not somewhere in the middle? 2) A neuroscientist is born and raised in a black and white room with black and white furniture, and watches nothing but black and white TV. That neuroscientist can come up with some pretty solid and true theories on light reception on the retina and in the brain, light perception, optical arrangement, etc. There is nothing wrong with her theories; they are just incomplete because she has never seen a color TV. These thought experiments suggest that humans cannot understand everything out there. However, the neuroscientist knows everything she needs to know in order to function perfectly in her world, and the dog would be no better at being a dog if it happened to learn calculus.
To tie together Justine and Emi’s comments, I think that the eastern and native religions you bring our attention to are much less controversial in society precisely because their spiritual traditions are based on observation and not doctrine issued absolutely from the supernatural. That’s not to say that these religions aren’t also rife with logical contradictions, but at least they don’t create incompatibilities in understanding that which lies outside their teachings. Again, I wish I knew more on the matter. If you don’t mind, I’d love some suggestions of reading material!
Which brings me to…(after a brief, unrelated photo interlude)...
|(Bronx Zoo, 2009)|
Heidi- First, THANK YOU for your thoughts, because otherwise this discussion would be fairly one-sided. This is a great and well-reasoned defense of non-literal bible interpretation. I think that you demonstrate the positive result of religious faith after claims of unknowable knowledge are largely ignored. Unfortunately, many Christians and many denominations do interpret the bible literally, and these people have not only held powerful positions (Ted Haggard, George Bush), but have become the face of Christianity at-large (sadly, Terry Jones). I know people that literally think the devil is real and walks among us. I know people that think Hell definitely exists as a doomed fiery eternity, and I will be ending up there because I do not accept the lord as my savior. Those are the types of unknowable truth claims that bother me.
You have shown that it is possible to validate the scripture when people attack the bible based on its contradictions. Acknowledging that the Old Testament is largely prose, oral tradition, and poetry, however, is an incomplete defense. If we conclude that Genesis “does not have to be a literal history of the world,” then Christians no longer have to reconcile things like 7-day creation, a 10,000 year old planet, literal Adam, Eve, and Eden, etc. Phew. But common arguments use this logic to cherry-pick scripture. For example: “Genesis is a metaphor, but Jesus was still definitely the son of god, and definitely rose from the dead.” If some of the bible is up for investigation and interpretation, then all of it must be. For instance, the 10 commandments are the divine moral imperatives, but the story of Moses is just prose? That is confusing to me. Also, where does one draw the line between “word of God,” and “word of the authors?” It seems like there is a big spectrum of this in the Bible.
Once we relax the literal interpretation of Genesis, we no longer believe that it is true. Instead, we accept the text as prose that informs our perspective on the world in meaningful ways. Existence of a supernatural being is not a prerequisite to this, because we all have read texts that re-oriented our lives that did not claim to be divinely inspired. I think faith is powerful in grounding one’s morals and moral duties, but I think Heidi’s comment reminds us that we can gain all the faith-based moral orientation we seek without needing to accept the absolute truths that come along with the strictly interpreted doctrines of those faiths.
|(American Tree Sparrow)|
Hey this is fun, I should write controversial blog posts more often.