Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Science and Religion

Not Science vs. Religion.

I read a resent post on FB that sparked a debate between atheists and theists. There was a lot of fantastic and respectful debate. I was genuinely impressed that it didn’t turn into a flame war, though there were a few digs on both sides. It was pointed out that people of faith could come across and smug and condescending. I have noticed that some of the atheists came across as arrogant and condescending. Both attitudes are disrespectful, so let's take the question of people's intelligence and mental state out of the debate. Too often, when people hold opposing views, I see both sides attempt to degrade or dehumanize each other, as if someone that disagrees with them must be faulty in some way. This is a fallacy and cheapens the accuser. One issue we face today is the complete lack of respect between people that possess opposing views. It doesn’t matter if it’s politics or religion, too often people classify their opponents as being stupid or backward or extreme.

One position that was discussed was that debate over the issue is useless. I agree that if a person that believes, either in a specific dogma, or just believes in the existence of a soul, debates with someone that doesn't there won't likely be any resolution. That doesn't mean the exchange shouldn’t occur. I don’t agree with blind faith in anything. I think people should examine their beliefs and dis beliefs and justify, at least to themselves the reasons for them. Even the act of asking the question means that we are open to other possibilities. Being open to a possibility is not a weakness of character. Only a fool assumes they know everything or has all the right answers. Each person need only look to their past to find example of when they were proven wrong and learned from the process. Why do some adults assume that at some point being wrong is no longer possible? For that matter, that a conflicting opinion must be wrong.

I love science. I understand some of it, but even if I had the abilities to understand all disciplines, I would never have the time to verify or test all hypotheses. I trust in the scientific process and the community as a whole to verify and validate findings, but I am also skeptical, because occasionally, this trust is betrayed. Because of the scientific process, hoaxes and bad science are uncovered eventually, but blind trust of science as the answer without even a basic understanding of the scientific process, is simply replacing the faith of one deity with the faith another, by deifying extremely intelligent scientists. It is certainly dangerous to assume that even a group of scientists are right when they insist on the validity of a given theory, yet there is a lot of pressure to create legislation based on theories that have not been given the time to be challenged and validated using the very scientific process they claim supports their position.

I do believe that there is more going on that a simple cycle of life and death. I believe that there is some purpose and some part of us that continues to exist after our meat suite dies. I don’t go to church because I have never found a dogma I can believe in. Religion is humanities attempt to explain what they can't understand. There are and have been a large number of religions and variations of religious systems created by mankind. They can't all be right. There can't be hundreds of true creation stories. I think what some people mean when they say "I'm spiritual, but not religious" is that they don't follow a specific dogma. I don’t feel a need for ritual. I don’t feel the need to find others that share my beliefs, but I also don't begrudge or demean those that do.

I don’t understand why people from both sides of this argument feel that the views must be apposing. I'm not talking about faith in a religious system, I'm talking about the possibility that there is something more that the death of the body. That there may be a purpose for our sentience, and that beyond sentience, we are more than the sum of our organic parts.

I am not a believer in or supporter of the new efforts around "Intelligent Design", because it feels like a cheat or a way to try to prove what can't be proved with pseudo science and half truths. Having members of a particular religion attempt to use science to prove the literal truth of their scripture (e.g. the earth is only 7,000 years old), is just as absurd as scientists trying to use the scientific method to disprove the existence of a soul (a non dogma specific constant among most religions).

In the 1600's, the scientific community was split into two camps with regards to the nature of light. One camp believed that light was a wave. The other camp believed that light was a particle. Both groups had evidence to support their claim and both believed the opposing camp was wrong. I wasn't there, but I'm guessing some unkind things were said by both sides. The problem with both positions was that the evidence each of them was using was proof only for their position, but did nothing to disprove the opposing view. Each side assumed the two theories were mutually exclusive. Because Newton was the one that proposed the particle theory and he had some horsepower, most scientists jumped on his bandwagon. For almost two hundred years, only idiots thought that light was a wave. Then in the early 1800's, some smarty pants created a test that proved light did in fact have the properties of a wave. Take that you stinking Newtonians! They must have been stupid to think light was a particle. That is until 1905, when a real smarty pants name Einstein, discovered what most of you reading this now know, that light is in fact both a wave and a particle. Three hundred years from when the first theories were put forth as scientific fact, we finally had the answer that it was both.

I'm only 44 and don’t think that if I devoted the rest of my life to the study of this issue that I would be any closer to understanding it if I live to be a hundred. I'm also not sure where we are on the time-line from the origin of scientific process to the point where we will have all the answers. Certainly, there is a finite point sometime in the future where we will run out of scientific questions, assuming a sustainable technological society with no expiration date. If we were at that point we could look back at the primitives living at the beginning of the twenty first century with sympathy bordering on contempt. It's possible that the universal duality of wave and particle that exists in matter as it does in light may be as blueprint for the seeming duality we now perceive between science and spirit. I don't have the answer, I have my answer and currently I'm content with it. I'm also open to hearing new views so I can consider them. Until the question is answered definitely one way or the other, I hope both sides can strive for acceptance of each others beliefs without resorting to smug or arrogant condescension.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughtful and authentic, Scott, and I have a personal comment.
    I believe in Consciousness. The curious thing about consciousness is that it is accepted by both religion and science, yet is understood by neither.
    I go to church because, for me, when in the peaceful present, I expand my consciousness. And I believe that when i expand consciousness I fulfill my purpose on the planet. And when I do so in the company of others, the consciousness expands exponentially. Church is not the only place that happens, but it does attract others who have a similar purpose.
    Thanks for the chance to say what I believe, too.