Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Science and Religion: Two Instruments for Seeing Reality

Science and religion are two methods, or two instruments for looking at similar life phenomena--one is like a microscope (science) examining the details; the other is like a telescope (religion) examining the larger picture. It is very important to see that "reality" is never found by any single instrument. "Reason is the organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning," said CS Lewis. Both reason and imagination are equally valid and useful organs for experiencing, examining and explicating reality. Both instruments must submit their dogmatic convictions to critiques. Einstein famously said, "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." ("Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium" 1941.)

Science typically utilizes rational and empirical approaches yet borrows heavily from imagination; religion typically utilizes intuitive and emotional approaches yet borrows heavily from reason. It is not an either/or situation, but rather one of emphases. There are as many dogmatic scientists as there are dogmatic religionists. There are many brilliant scientists who experience a rich religious life, and many spiritual theologians who experience a rich rational life. The famous philosopher Alfred North Whitehead shocked his rational audience in the 1920s when he told them that modern science would never have come into existence without the Christian theological cosmology which began with the idea of a reasonable Creator in His rationally ordered universe. (See chapter 10 of Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas). Whitehead noted that the vast majority of the early great philosophers and scientists were practicing Christians who sought to understand the mind of a reasonable deity. This idea of a reasonable deity is not and cannot be found in the Eastern religions which worship Nature as divine--one does not experiment on or question the Natural Gods. And of the Western religions, only the Christian religion stresses "orthodoxy" (ideas) over "orthopraxy" (actions) as in Judaism and Islam. In other words, the Christian emphasis on beliefs and ideas provides a matrix for evolving thought and a rational exploration of a reasonable material universe, even if the ideas develop slowly and receive censure or resistance from the ecclesiastical powers. The Christian "system" of orthodoxy (right ideas) has a built-in default setting that returns it to conversations about beliefs and ideas.  That is why Communist, Islamic and other ideologically frozen territories have been and continue to be terrified by the Bible and free theological/religious discourse. Whitehead makes it clear that one's mythology sets the trajectory of cultural consciousness, discoveries and inventions. This is also significant for politics--something which our Western international policy makers ought to take into account before they try to export democracy or import socialism. 

Our modern academic ignorance of religious, philosophical and psychological big ideas are the bane of our Western education and social institutions. Politicians, journalists and business owners once had an education in the Humanities. Now they learn techniques without the examination of philosophical foundations or an exploration of meaning.

It is important to remember that both science and religion appeal to the innate human compulsion toward certainty, security and order. Every human child is born with equal drives to suckle, walk, talk and seek self-, social- and cosmic-assurance in a world of chaos and fragmentation. The human psyche naturally and autonomously requires and is motivated to acquire assurances of security and order internally and externally. Humans are congenitally meaning-making creatures in a world without human meaning. "Culture" is the result of this congenital condition. 

Such psychological assurances are most often pursued, defined and defended in human personalities largely unconsciously and uncritically during the first 20 years of life. These assurances are acquired ideological stances that meld with the personality and become what seems an unalterable identity of security in a hostile and dangerous world. Many in the West have called this acquired secure identity the "ego". This compulsion toward the solidifying of a specific self-identity most often occurs in the late teen years, but it is not uncommon to experience radical ego-shifts as one matures--sometimes quickly as in a conversion experience or gradually via a lifetime of assimilating new experiences and ideas. The most intractable are those who cannot or will not openly examine a perspective outside of their current secure "identity-stance". This inability or unwillingness to seriously consider differing points of view is often complicated by perceived or real threats to tangible aspects of ones identity—like losses of vocational livelihood, peer bonds, family connections and a sense of internal cognitive harmony. Change feels like death. Tolkien captures this experience in The Hobbit as Gandalf the Grey tries to enlist Bilbo Baggins in an adventure to other worlds outside “The Hill”. Bilbo, seated on his porch, blowing smoke rings, ensconced in his cozy hobbit hole in the ground replies, "Adventure? Nasty uncomfortable things, make you late for dinner."

Religion and science are frequently hobbit holes. Leaving them, seriously leaving them, in order to deeply explore other worlds causes distress and discomfort—making one late for the usual ideological dinner they have been eating for decades. No wonder Jesus said, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, and there are few who find it.”

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