Are Science & Religion At War?

For some reason this is the age of fundamentalism. There are groups in Christian, Muslim and Jewish (and some other) circles, who interpret their scriptures very literally. What they say in essence, is that the Bible/Qur’an/Younameit is literally true word for word. That it’s been received from God just as it is today. My irreverent question would be, “which version of them?” and I beg your pardon, and no disrespect meant for your Scripture. I believe in the Bible. I just don’t think it’s wise for us to start thinking of it as being a literal expression of reality.

There are several versions of extant documents in the Bible, and although they’re not very much different from each other, they aren’t from the period when Christian doctrines were bubbling in a cauldron called Roman Empire. There was no “Bible” as the Christian world knows now, but just the Hebrew Bible, and some epistles and “Gospels”. We know examples about documents that were “doctored” to match the Scribes’ personal views, so it’s quite difficult to say that the Bible is 100% from God. In the very least, human hands have written it down, nobody disputes that. And it absolutely must use a human language, which makes it less than perfect.

Well, aside from that little squabble, there is the “counterforce” for that. That is called New Atheism. This New Atheism (Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris) uses very fundamentalist demagoguery that probably appeals to those, who already hate religious people for some reason–and who are furthest into a state of agitation and violence such that they’re willing to inflict real physical damage to people, who profess religion. They say that religion is the root of all evil in this world, and that Science could solve all the problems without extremist polemics. They make it sound as if there really were one version of Science that all scientists underwrite, and that answers all of our questions. Really? Well, not remotely so. Anyway, some of those people, who oppose religion as fostering violence, are ready and willing to swing their fists when you disagree with them, and only walking away from some situations has saved me from fisticuffs.

Anyway, then there’s Steven Jay Gould, who says that science and religion are “Non-overlapping Magisteria” and don’t have anything to say about each other. Perhaps that isn’t what I’d say, but I would not take Genesis, for example, as a reliable source for secular history (although a stone tablet was found in 2009 [?] containing a reference to a king named Schlm or something (which might well be what we call king Salomon) biology or geography. For example, when the Genesis talks about “the whole earth” it does in the end seem like it covers just the eastern Mediterranean coastal regions, not other continents (check out how the “whole Earth” was repopulated after the Flood, as Genesis actually tells it–use whatever Bible version you like).

Again I want to say that I see no reason, why what we call Evolution these days could not be the “how” of the creation process. “Creatio Ex Nihilo” was never scriptural, anyway. There’s one oblique reference in Paul about God “creating something that wasn’t there before” or something. That is what the whole structure of Creatio Ex Nihilo was based on, in essence.

The Israelites didn’t cross the Red Sea, most likely, but another, smaller and shallower body of water. Not that it diminishes the fact that without the Lord they would have remained in slavery, both physically and spiritually. And why would God, whose idea was to put us here for a probation to see, if we are willing to do what we sincerely believe to be from God, leave clear, irrefutable signs of his work in his creation. How’s that for jumping all over the place for me?

There is naturally a cost to everything. The cost of the peace that the Spirit can give you is your willingness to do what you sincerely believe/know to be from God, even it isn’t always easy. It means sacrifice. For some, that means they are willing to pay their tithing as long as their finances are okay and so forth. For some that means that they’ll blow themselves up for a “higher purpose” if needed. For myself, it means, that I trust God. I am willing to do what I firmly believe to be from God, without conditions. But don’t worry; my God isn’t going to ask me to blow myself up–what he wants me to do is to express genuine love towards my neighbors, not to condemn them. But I would like to have the “but if not” kind of faith. I’m not sure if I qualify yet. It’s not that I idealize extreme sacrifice, but we all tend to respect those things more, which we must work harder to get.

Actually, I would say that the problem is with un- or undereducated populace, who can be manipulated by cheap demagoguery. This same thing happened in Germany and much of the rest of Europe, when the Nazi ideology painted the European Jews with a dark color (and if you check the Wikipedia link, it’ll be interesting to note all those “National Socialist” parties around the “civilized” world). Although “Christ-killers” was an epithet occasionally thrown, it was mostly about the powerful (in real life: downtrodden) Jews exploiting the German working and middle class to enrich themselves. That’s what the rhetoric mostly was about, so it wasn’t about their religion. As far as I know, nobody was offered a choice to renounce Judaism, after they were arrested by Gestapo, to get away from the death camps. Some did get away by completely hiding their Jewish heritage early enough to escape the yellow star. (Nazis also admired a kind of a Pagan Hedonism, which sounds like asceticism at first blush, but then you see it’s true nature–another way to promise people lots of fun without paying the price.

Or take Soviet Union. They were the other side of any armed conflict between 1945 and 1985, and their ideology was nominally scientific, just like “natural theology” was during its heyday. So, if we were to have a “panel of scientists” solving all the big problems in the world, with some unknown to force everyone to obey (as likely as that is), who and how would decide how we should evaluate different theoretical schemes. We are perhaps not all qualified for that, so who’s going to be the “benevolent dictator” to decide our lives for us? (But this is not another “anti-elitist” rant!)

I still think that although Democracy is not a very good system, it’s still better than anything we’ve come up with so far. And that means that we must learn to somehow live with people, who want different things and trust (have faith in) different things. We are, in the end, much better off that way, although that includes some suffering.

Please don’t think me an anti-Scientist, either. I’m not. I’m just expressing my ideas strongly, but I try to do it without rancor. I think our Science education in the Western world is going downhill, while our youth just want to be celebrities, and seek the easiest way to that. The more real scientists we have, the better off we’ll be in the long run. BTW, while in most religions, a secular education correlates strongly with non-observance, among LDS members, it’s considerably less so.

So, if there are some descriptions in the Bible that are allegoric rather than literal, does it mean that nothing that we read in the Bible can be trusted to mean it? No, of course not. For example, the different ways that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is attested to, is an example of something that very likely is more than just an allegory, what with a whole epistle from Paul testifying of our own resurrection. For further material, we could read Alma 11 from the Book of Mormon. But for us to tell the difference, we must pay the price. The price is first following some base rules (study, prayer, observance), then being honest in our seeking for an answer. If our attitude is that we’ll follow the Lord if it’s convenient for us to do so, he may not go through the trouble of trying to make us understand.

So here I stand, on both sides of the war of words. But, with a Peace in my heart:


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Posted in Mormonism, Religion, Sociology
11 comments on “Are Science & Religion At War?
  1. somemusician says:

    I am going to try and refrain from this becoming a religious debate. I know that was not the purpose of this post. However, I must pose objections to several of your statements and would just urge caution in some of the points that you made.

    I quote: “state of agitation and violence” when referring to non-religious factions. I would like to know the references behind this kind of claim. To the best of my knowledge, there have not been serious claims to violence from the non-religious side. If there have been, undoubtedly these are remote instances and is not indicative of the whole. It is one thing to be irritated with religious propagation and another to become violent. Also, is it not a bit hypocritical to be making statements like this when there are many examples of violence being effectuated *in the name of* religion? And before examples are brought up of despicable individuals who were atheist, one has to bear in mind that these individuals were not committing atrocities in the name of atheism, but rather, were for more sociological or economic reasons. Which brings me to my next point…

    “…Jews exploiting the German working and middle class to enrich themselves. That’s what the rhetoric mostly was about, so it wasn’t about their religion.” While I agree that the Germans were not doing this because of religious aspects (I also believe that the former Jewish persecution of the Germans has a part in it), it is necessary to know that Hitler believed he was doing the work of god, which actually somewhat nicely segues into my next point…

    “my God isn’t going to ask me to blow myself up” I must caution this line of thinking also. When you say such decisive statements as this, you are setting yourself up for a quite obvious rebuttal: you honestly do not know what God (I’m assuming you are some form of Christian) would ask of you. While it is true, that it seems that the Jesus of the New Testament seemed to preach a lifestyle of peace, one cannot forget the God of the Old Testament. If it is in the capricious nature of God to change attitudes and go from a genocidal, malevolent (I digress…) behavior to seemingly promote a lifestyle of Pacifism, then why is out of the question that God would return to being the God of the Old Testament (which if Revelations is to be taken into account, he will)?

    • Velska says:

      The “state of agitation and violence” thing is personal experience. Some people, who already are ready to fight with you, will use the rhetoric of “obliterating religion” from public life and take it literally, the kind who will use any excuse to attack. There aren’t so many, so perhaps that was too prominent for its occurrence, but on the other hand, there have been burned churches… it should have been obvious from my comments, however, that they were not indicative of the main, but descriptive of “some people”.

      I’m not denying the violence “in the name of religion” but I’m saying that quite often it’s about racism or other intermingled thing like that, which can be hidden in religious rhetoric, so it’s unfair to blame that on religion alone.

      And let’s remember that Eugenics was given us by Science. Which, again, is not the fault of science, because anything can and will be used against you by the ignorant.

      Trying to put it short: Any knowledge, any ideology, can be twisted to serve nefarious purposes. Pure science can be distorted into racist claptrap. A gospel of love can be turned into a murderous rage, when it’s your old enemy, who confesses the “wrong” religion.

      But “former Jewish persecution of the Germans”? Could you explicate a little? A Wikipedia link? I know that in Poland, the Jews were in the unfortunate position of having to force the landlords’ unconscionable requirements on their tenants, and some people there used it to agitate Polish peasants to an uprising against Jews. But yes, there have been Jews, whose only way of making a living has been to enforce the unfair decisions of their rulers. That’s hardly Jewish persecution.

      Well, you digress, and so will I: God has never been wavering about this. “The Old Testament God” gave Moses a law that was radical in its time in how much leniency it gave to criminals. It was not about rules of vengeance, but rules of restitution; an opportunity and an obligation, if you will, to try to restore the stolen or destroyed. For their world, it was news that one doesn’t have an explicit right to rape a young woman, who’s out alone.

  2. somemusician says:

    I completely agree with you that any ideology can be used for “nefarious purposes” both on the religious and non-religious side. I may have mis-spoken when I said the Jewish persecution of Germans and was more thinking of Polish. My point was to agree with you in saying that while “Christ-killers” may have been thrown around, the extermination of the Jewish people could be more aptly described as a twisted version of “Darwinism.” What I was trying to say, and perhaps I just was not being clear, is that while it is likely that religion had very little to do with the causation, Hitler still felt justified by means of religion.

    I’m not sure I quite follow you when you refer to the leniency given to criminals. I’ll concede that the traditional “Ten Commandments” of Exodus 20 have a few good moralistic laws. However, you must also concede that these laws were not followed by any means and, more to the point which I was trying to make, the explicit breaking of these laws was condoned by the God of the Old Testament.

    • somemusician says:

      My apologies, I am just now realizing the “LDS” theme in your tag line. Unfortunately, I am not as familiar with Mormonism as I would like to be. I sincerely apologize for having subjugated you to the rantings of a lunatic who needs to learn to read. 🙂

    • somemusician says:

      Hopefully, through you, I will be able to educate myself!

    • Velska says:

      Have some patience with yourself, there.

    • Velska says:

      When speaking about Hitler, we should remember that we’re talking about a psychopath of the first order, who was willing to use any argument whatsoever to further his cause. Actually, his anti-Semitism, too, was a means to an end. Reiterate: All ideologies can be used… And yes, I thought you were referring to the Polish case—when the Jewish secretaries or whatever the estate handlers were called were made responsible for enforcing the unfair tenancy policies instituted by the Polish aristocracy, who in turn did it most likely because they had the “insulation” from the wrath of the masses (many didn’t even live in their estates, but stayed in the cities with the money obtained from their tenants).

      I’m not sure what you mean by “explicit breaking of [the 10 Commandments] was condoned by the God of the Old Testament”? The Mosaic Law did introduce many principles of social justice we take for granted today, that were totally new then. However, the takeover of the “Promised Land” was at times violent, and the Lord explicitly told to “destroy everyone”—but I wouldn’t say those explicit commandments gave a blanket permission to disobey his commandments.

      Perhaps I should say, that I am really not denying or belittling the role that religious justifications have played in the violent episodes of the world? Believe me, they hurt me more than any “rantings of a lunatic” you could imagine. 😉 But I do wish to remind, that people, who will react violently, will do so regardless of the “dressings” used. They’ll do it for racial hygiene, “social justice” or whatever cause will serve the purpose, including, yes, religious orthodoxy.

  3. Perhaps my research will help you resolve some of the religion/science dilemma you’re grappling with.

  4. […] wanted to digress more into this when writing the science/religion post, so I decided to do a post on it,  a short […]

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