Saturday, November 14, 2009

Science vs Religion

Religion and Science are two very different activities, but they are both quintessentially human endeavors.

Science is really a way of asking questions and getting answers. Scientists asks how things happen and look at antacedant causes to find the answers. But answers in science are provisional – never final. For instance, Issac Newton's Theory of Gravity was supplanted two hundred years later by Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

That's why scientific knowledge is made up of theories, not immutable decrees. Scientific knowledge is ever growing and never completed. This is different from religion where if someone adds new revelations to established scripture, it often becomes a separate religion with separate adherents, like Mormonism.

Religion, is also a way of asking questions and getting answers but it asks the question “Why?” rather than “How?” because it is really about meaning and purpose in our lives.

We are the only religious species because we don't do well if we don't have a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives. Science can also give one a sense of meaning and purpose but, because science is provisional – it doesn't give the same sense of security that religion does.

One of the reasons that science and religion conflict is because they are both about life, and life, as we have discovered, is about maintaining itself. Life is intrinsically purposive. Living creatures try to keep on living for as long as possible; They try and begat progeny; They behave purposefully.

Science has subtle problems with this because it doesn't like asking questions about purpose – that's too subjective. It would rather ask questions about physical causes.

One of the main reasons a lot of people are uneasy with scientific descriptions of life is that they sound too mechanistic and meaningless. You can get the impression from strict Darwinists, like Richard Dawkins, that life just happened to evolve purely by chance.

This offends our religious sensibilities – it certainly offends mine. Since everything about life is purposeful, I don't see how the evolution of life could all be due to chance.

But that's a religious approach, not a scientific approach. The questions: “Why does life exist?” and “Why am I here?” - that sort of thing.

I like to think that I'm here for a purpose, that the universe begat life for a purpose, that there is a meaning to life. These are concerns about my subjective experience, about my participation in life.

Science is trying to be objective, trying to approach the ideal of objectivity - which it never quite reaches, because it is provisional and never final. Science is largely uncomfortable getting mixed up in “subjective experience” But that's OK because we've got religion and our religious propensities to deal with the subjective.

We can be uneasy about mechanistic explanations of evolution and human behaviour, but some people go to the extreme of denying the existence of evolution and global warming.
When people deny that life evolved they are taking Martin Luther's extreme position that the holy scriptures trumps every other human authority, including and especially Science.

The people who wrote the Bible were not scientists, they were not really interested in the question of causes and evidence for causes. They were interested in religious questions about who we are, why we are here, why do bad things happen to us, and what happens after we die.

The people who wrote the Bible were fundamentally people. Therefore they had axes to grind, they had personal and political reasons for writing the things that they did. No living person is immune from this, especially not people who claim to be inspired by God, as recent events testify over and over again.

Whoever wrote the book of Genesis was not writing a scientific description of how life originated. He or she, was trying to get people to observe the Sabbath.

God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. So we should observe one day in the seven day week as a holy day. That's what that story is all about. This writer had ulterior motives as do all other writers.

When scientists ask questions such as: “How old is the human species?” and “Where and how did humans originate?” , the answer from Genesis, that God created the world in six days, just doesn't cut it. It's just a way of telling people to shut up and stop asking inconvenient questions.

The evidence is all around us that life is constantly changing, that life is incredibly old, that the Earth is incredibly old, and that we, as the human race, are not all that old. We should have respect for our elders.

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