Thursday, September 13, 2007

Science versus Religion

Are science and religion compatible? That question seems to be all the rage this year, so I thought I'd speak up and prove that I don't have the answer.

Anybody who claims that science and religion are compatible probably doesn't understand science. Anybody who claims that science and religion are incompatible probably doesn't understand religion. I don't understand religion.

Stephen Jay Gould once claimed that science and religion address non-overlapping magisteria, therefore compatibility between them is irrelevant. I think I can probably agree with that. Science addresses reality. I don't know what religion addresses.

At a banquet that my wife and I attended a few years ago, we were seated at a table with several clergy people and other religious leaders of several denominations. The conversation turned to the philosophical implications of the difference between the two versions of the Nicene Creed, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, or only the Father and not the Son.

I, in my ignorance, asked, "Has anybody ever conducted an observation to watch the Holy Spirit proceeding, so we'd know which is true?"

One of the clergymen tried to explain, "The proceeding of the Holy Spirit isn't something you observe, it's derived from the equilateral symmetry of the Trinity."

I asked, "But how was the equilateral symmetry of the Trinity measured?"

Another clergyman answered, "The equilateral symmetry of the Trinity isn't measured, it's deduced by means of faith."

I asked, "But how do you do that?"

Another clergyman then tried to explain, "First you must believe, so that you may experience the Trinity in action, then you'll understand the sacred mystery. Read the works of Saint Anselm, who explained it all quite clearly."

At this point, my wife knew what I was about to ask next, so she began poking me under the table, so I figured it was time to drop this utterly futile line of questioning.

I thought, what's this? I'm supposed to believe before I can understand? I thought I had to understand before belief was justified.

Before Galileo could get people to believe that Jupiter had moons, he had to help them understand that a telescope was a tool to extend human vision, not an implement of satanic delusion.

Before Alfred Wegener could get people to believe that continents drift around, he had to help them understand that there was a lot more to it than the coincidental similarity of the shapes of the Atlantic coastlines of Africa and South America.

Before Einstein could get anybody to believe the Theory of Relativity, he had a tremendous amount of explaining to do. The Theory of Relativity still appears to have some holes in it.

And before Saint Anselm can get me to believe anything, well, he can't. He couldn't explain anything in a logically coherent manner when he was alive, and I doubt he'll do it now that he's dead.

Religion is an utterly alien world to me. I only participate because the natural progress of my life has placed me in the Episcopal Church social crowd and it would be needlessly hateful of me to refuse to participate.

So, am I a hypocrite for going through the motions of a religion in which I hold not the slightest belief whatsoever?


Hallie said...

How is it hateful not to participate? I'm sorry, but I just don't understand. There are lots of places my life could have taken me naturally had I not diverted the flow. I could have flowed into church, too, but I didn't because I think it's needless to participate in rituals built around things I don't believe. And, really, why should it ever be hateful not to participate in or agree with anyone else? Why would saying "I'm sorry, this just isn't for me" or "I appreciate the invitation, but I just don't agree with you" ever be inappropriate? Why aren't you entitled to do whatever you want with your time and choose your own social groups, and why would anyone hold it against you if you did?

OrneryPest said...

Ooh, ooh! I catch flak from both sides! The churchy crowd says I'm evil because I don't believe what I participate in. The rational thinking crowd says I'm evil because I partcipate in what I don't believe. At least they all agree that I'm evil!

Hallie said...

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't believe I called you evil. I don't think you're doing anything wrong... as someone who doesn't believe in God, I find it easy to accept that people go to church for reasons beyond just the obvious religious ones. I just think that if you're worrying about being a hypocrite, you might want to reevaluate your reasons- is the social group actually important to you, or are you just being pressured? If going to church is something you actually WANT to do, then go ahead and do it.

And, as an aside, I appreciate that you enjoy internet flame wars but it really shouldn't count unless I actually flame you.

OrneryPest said...

Oh no, Hallie, I'm not explicitly accusing you personally of calling me evil. I'm just commenting on the general attitudes of the folks I come in contact with. On the other hand, my father-in-law was an Episcopal church bishop, and he once told me that every congregation needs a resident atheist just to keep them riled up, so I guess I'm fulfilling that function.

boadicea said...

I don't think it is hateful of you to participate. My boyfriends mom is very religious but I am an atheist. He has explained this to her, but if I am in her home I participate in saying grace, and for mothers day she wanted him to go to church with her, so we went to church. I will say it was kind of hard to keep my mouth shut while that preacher waxed idiotic on a womans place in her home. My problem is when religious people want to convert you. It's hard to walk that line of not being downright rude, but really, how can you argue myths with people? How can you have a logical argument when their only evidence is the Bible?