This has nothing to do with the news….
Science and Religion Part 1 But I think it’s important nevertheless. So if you find yourself looking for a break from Egypt, the Superbowl, the Tea Party, Obama-Sarah Palin-Health Care-strapped budgets-and all this snow, ice, and wind…read on.
This is about, in very general and highly oversimplified bloggish terms, the relation between science and religion. A lot of the times (not always, say—for religious environmentalists) they are in opposition. Each side proclaiming that it has the most value.
Here are two ways to show people who think either side has a monopoly on truth, reason, or grace, that is just ain’t so.
The scientific knock on religion is that it’s based on faith, not supported by reason, lacks evidence, and thus has no right to represent itself as something worth believing. If someone wants to believe, in the privacy of his own home, with other consenting adults, o.k. But it’s essentially no different than a preference for stamp collecting, video game playing, or snowboarding: just a private preference.
And it’s certainly not like, of all things, science, which is rooted in everything religion lacks: reason, evidence, Sound Method, and lots of progress.
There surely is some truth in this. After all, the very idea of freedom of religion stemmed in part from people reflecting on two centuries of bitter religious wars in Europe. After all that death, no one was closer to any agreement. If that’s not a sign that there’s nothing to argue over in any rational sense, what is?
And yet, there’s more to be said. The following exchange, taken from Chapter 5 of my forthcoming book of short stories Engaging Voices, gives you an idea of what I have in mind.
The setting: Sarah, a highly secular religion-despising, feminist soil ecologist is stuck in a mountain shelter in a rainstorm, where she meets Jacob, an orthodox Jew who is also an environmentalist, and Martin, who abandoned his childhood faith when his pastor sold out to a mountaintop removal company. Waiting for the rain to let up they start talking about the place of religion in environmentalism. Jacob is all for it, but Sarah has just listed some of science’s gravest faults: that it ignored nature, that it despised women, that it’s superstitious nonsense, that it’s about controlling the poor.
“What can I say?…It’s true. There is a lot about power, a lot of selfishness passing itself off as holiness, and more hypocrisy than you can shake a stick at—if that’s your idea of a good time.” He looked up hopefully to see if anyone got the Groucho Marx reference—no one did. “And for all that, I’m sorry, truly sorry. Those of us who say we are in love with God should do better.
“But,” he smiled again, with a little bit more force behind it, “are we the only ones?”
“The only ones what?” Sarah asked impatiently.
“The only ones who are hypocritical, power hungry, or just in it for the money? Sexist? Of course you’re right, religious people had nothing to say about dangerous pesticides for decades after they came in.”
“Exactly,” replied Sarah. “Too busy moaning and groaning about abortion.”
“But,” Jacob went on, a little faster now: “Who created those pesticides? Who thought, ‘Gee, we’ll take leftover nerve gas from World War II and kill all the bugs. We can sell it for a bundle and make life oh so much easier at the same time.’ Who?”
“What do you mean, ‘Who’?” Martin broke in. “You want their names?”
“Not the names, dopey,” Sarah replied, suddenly realizing that whatever religious nonsense Jacob believed, he wasn’t stupid. “He means it was people like me.”
“Well, not you personally,” Jacob said reassuringly. “You seem very nice and . . . responsible. But it was scientists and engineers. You know, the rational people, the ones who believe in evidence and sound method. Sure the religious leaders turned a blind eye, but it was science that did it.
“And do you think scientists are any better for women than priests? Medical treatments for menopause that cause cancer but make women more sexually available. Psychiatric diagnoses that say women are supposed to be masochists. Endless interventions into childbirth to promote the medical establishment.” His voice had slowly become stronger, more powerful, filled with confidence.
“You really think scientists love nature, or women, any more than traditional religion does? I’d say a lot less. The Torah tells us to let our animals rest on the Sabbath, and that wild animals can eat from fields on the Sabbatical Year. If you hear that the Messiah has come, and you’re planting a tree, you are to finish planting before you greet him. At least we have something, what does science have? Cut it open, rip it to pieces, get to know it so we can sell it or make it into a weapon.”
In Part 2, coming soon, the criticism will move in the opposite direction.