A Letter to a Friend: Religion and Science Complement Each Other
I’m sure you know I am in complete agreement with you on every point other than the suggestion that they’ll bring up interesting points. I found the video and I’ll be watching it this weekend, and I’m not holding any high expectations, any more than there are interesting points brought up in presidential and congressional debates nowadays.
I just see two hacks going on-stage to tell each other how wrong they are, and to confirm to their respective audiences what those audiences already believe and are looking to prove. I don’t think anybody there is seriously thinking they might change someone’s mind, have their own mind changed, or come up with a new synthesis with more profound insights than either previous message.
The way I have tried to train myself to think is that there can be something learned from everything, even the most foolish and useless of opinions. I guess Hinduism informs me a bit, in that there is truth in everything, even in lies. You can become wiser from every experience and thought. And to gain understanding, you must pick a little bit out of everything- even the polar opposite of your position. You must also be careful not to go full sway with anything, because everything has a certain flaw inherent to it.
So in politics, I arrived where I am now- just a little right of center on the American political spectrum, generally favoring large, activist governments with heavily decentralized governance and active civil societies- by taking the useful ideas out of most of the streams of American political thought and integrating them into a more balanced whole. If I have a polar opposite it is either libertarianism or anarchism, but both of those have their values to me. Libertarianism captures the necessity of restraints on power; Anarchism captures the desire of the individual for ultimate freedom and ultimate power over themself. Whenever I hear someone making any political statement nowadays, two thoughts go through my head- first, that this person is self-interested, ideological, and doesn’t know anywhere near as much as they think they know; and second, what can I learn from this statement they are making, what is valid, what is useful, and what does their statement say about them and American politics as a whole?
You can tell what I think of the party system nowadays, with its polarizing and heavily ideological demagogues misleading the public on a whim out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. They are more concerned with being right than with learning, and even moreso than with being a good statesman and citizen. And the honorable, intelligent men who seek public office to serve are invariably drawn into this maelstrom of idiocy by the very nature of the requirements of the system!
I think the science-religion “debate” parallels the polarization problem in American politics. There is an intense sense of absolutism, the mark of weak minds, which pervades it- God did everything magically and you’re going to Hell! There is no God, all this just showed up and when you die there’s just nothing! It’s a sensitive enough issue to everyone that so long as people of the aforementioned quality do the discussing, it seems that there can be no compromise.
Which is quite unfortunate, because between religion and philosophy and science, there is far more organic connection and compatibility than there is between the various schools of politics, I think. It’s not simply that science and various interpretations of religion can coexist and maybe even complement each other. It is that one literally cannot make sense, in a rational and moral way, without the other!
I’ll use the creation-evolution example.
Creationism- used in its sparsest sense, the notion that a higher Being was the cause and designer and creator of the physical universe- assumes, first, that there IS a physical universe. By looking at various phenomena such as patterns, cycles, beauty, and sameness, Creationism assumes that there was a higher intelligence at work.
But the very act of making observations, noticing patterns, and hypothesizing conclusions, is- please, please, please correct me if I’m wrong- basically hyperprimitive science. The Creationists typically feel free, in fact, to make free use of the diversity of scientific discoveries to extend their argument that the Universe is so complex, so beautiful, that it must have been created by a higher being. I see no problem with this- I do it often. Their hypocrisy comes when they vigorously deny science which attempts to explain the ORIGINS of these phenomena, when they suggest that the human mind cannot possibly know how our universe came to be and how it works at the moment. My primary problem with this is that it denies that humans have the capability to have Reason; and moreover, that they seem to believe they know how their God designed the Universe, knowledge unbequeathed to their rivals the nonbelievers.
Evolutionism- used in the sparsest sense, (and I don’t claim to be particularly formal about this at all, I’m sure you will be able to provide me with the proper terms) is the notion that material processes, according to objective laws and random chance, created the Universe as we know it, without the aid of any metaphysical or spiritual power. By looking at patterns and cycles and sameness, and other phenomena, and utilizing Reason, Evolutionists attempt to discern the laws and principles by which the universe operates, and the implications for all other things.
It would seem that this could stand alone, requiring nothing mystical to sustain it, and if human beings were computers perhaps this would be true. But if a human being does reduce all reality to a series of laws which have both good and bad effects, and no intrinsic moral value beyond the fact that they exist, then that person becomes a Materialist, valuing nothing other than what can be observed and generally denying what the richness of human art and culture seems to prove must exist. How could a Materialist explain beauty? How could they appreciate music, if its only value was in (flooding their brains with dopamine? whatever the pleasure chemical is) and there were nothing deeper, more meaningful about it? If this were the truth, and there were nothing but the material world, then Spirit could not exist, and ultimately all this would be meaningless. Certainly the Materialist could continue their scientific exploits; but not having faith that anything beyond them mattered, not even themselves, would they find any reason to live at all? The whole human experience suggests not only that we are dripping with meaning, but that we REQUIRE it for healthy life. And as this meaningful, spiritual side is clearly necessary for our health, it does not seem that random chance would have designed a species which required a resource it could never have. My primary problem with Materialism is that it attempts to paint Faith as useless; yet one must have a lot of Faith in one’s own rightness to make such a claim.
The two primary paths to truth- Faith and Reason- need each other. As I review my previous paragraphs, I find that my arguments for their complementarity are rather weak. But I trust that you are of sufficient Faith and Reason to understand that one simply does not make sense without the other.
Please forgive me for my boisterous, cantankerous, typically haughty opinions and my unnecessarily long-winded and self-serving method of delivering them. I hope you see that your thoughts are similar (though happily much more concise) than mine and that if your first statement was naive, then mine is something like 12 or 15 times more naive (for every length my thought was longer than yours.) Though you do not practice any organized religion in particular, I guarantee you you give the issue more thought than the vast majority of supposed believers.
Pope Francis said a while back that those who do not subscribe to any faith, but wrestle with the questions of faith every day, are far closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than those sheepish masses of believers who do not ponder these mysteries, out of a sickly apathy. So according to his judgment, it would seem that you are in a pretty good place.