I get some very offbeat searches thrown my way every now and then. For example, wanderers of the Ethernet have come in search of Strong powers to help me fight, which I am not so sure I could provide. It seems this would be important as mechanic vs. doctor is a search category. Is this a no holds barred grudge match or a freaky Friday type takeover of one another’s job?
Apparently I am more Christlike than I realize, as news of Jesus social phobia reached me. Another mistook my blog for Orson Scott Card’s Children of the mind with two body with one soul. One searcher sought info on wheelchair user pretender experience, which brought to my mind visions of George Costanza madly scooting away from a gang of the angered elderly, also on scooters, eager to expose his walking ability and take him down, classic, but not really available on my blog. Some masochist wants a kazillion question test and another surfer, truly fearful of the insidious Mormon collective sought out the secrets of the mind reprogramming Mormon.
There is one search this week intrigued me beyond all these, to the point I had to make it my next post. This is for that intrepid voyager who sought science for the soul.
This instantly struck a chord within me. Strange as it may sound, for me, science and religion really are intricately intertwined. Not in an evidence vs. faith sort of way. I know the two approaches to the universe are fundamentally different. It is more of a shock and awe at the nature of the Universe and deep reverence kind of way. However the similarities run quite deep. For example-
Both have their share of extremists.
Science and religion are held by conventional wisdom to be at odds today. Headlines are very keen on the conflict. A trip across the blogosphere can provide page after page of anti-evolution or anti Intelligent Design diatribe. Skeptics dot the ether with derisive screeds making fun of “cult medicine”, herbalism, anti- global warming, or basically anything that goes against scientific consensus. Incidentally, this is done even when opposing claims may not have really been adequately studied enough to know what they are belittling is actually wrong. Anti-religion screeds are now decrying that the very act of exposing children to religious beliefs is child abuse. They also seem to delight in stirring the pot even when it is difficult to see what harm this belief can actually cause. In a word, they are intolerant. The history of religion in the area is abundantly clear and well documented. In science it is really coming into its own. I hesitate to link to them, for fear of the relentless trolling that would ensue, but you can google carnival of the godless to get an idea what I’m talking about.
Science and Religion both have their share of self righteousness
Science has become a symbol of our secular society, the refuge of the atheist, bastion of the “rational and sane.” Sadly, it has become a pawn in the political tug’o’war between good old GWB and the secular left. It really doesn’t have to be this way. In the end, this infighting and bickering just prove to me that these two really are just different faces of the same thing. Mankind has been warring over God for millennia, and this is just a dressed up version of the never ending battle, leading to my next point…
Science and Religion both make exclusive truth claims
When taken to the extreme this leads to conflict, dehumanization and war.
While this is obvious and self evident in religion, it is perhaps less obvious in the case of science. However, the entire mindset of science is based upon the idea of proof. Science lauds itself with the ability to reject old paradigms when the evidence suggests they are wrong, and indeed this is a very good and important thing for progress and learning. It requires a little humility. In the cases above, this humility is turned on its head as it then leads to value judgements about others who may not share this worldview. The arrogance comes with the assumption that empiric truth is the only truth. This is a very western concept, alien to much of the world’s population to an extent I think is difficult for us to fully comprehend. skepticism, which serves us very well in scientific advances, has a downside when we generalize it to the beliefs of others. Many, if not most of our beliefs, whether they be about ethics, nature, God, the universe, are typically not empiric. When your entire belief system demands these evidences, all who lack these things quickly become anathema, something to be ridiculed and despised.
But enough about the dark side, is there any light? Well here is what I see.
Both religion and science involve a quest for truth and understanding.
At their heart, both science and religion are driven by a desire to make sense of the world around us. Religion does this through the power of myth, intuition, revelation and mysticism. Science does this through the empiric collection of data and testing of hypotheses. Now both of these of course end up answering the big questions differently. In science the answer to why we are here is a question of the big bang, expansion of the universe, distilling of elements, primordial ooze and a process of evolution. In religion, these are just details. Why we are here is something different entirely. It is a search for meaning or purpose, not just something that happened. Because there is no empiric way to answer this question, this is where the two philosophies can be intractably at odds with each other. This is only true if you fail to realize that one of these approaches to truth can never eliminate the value of the other. It turns out truth can mean fundamentally different things depending on your point of view.
Both are driven by a curiosity and drive intrinsic to human nature
To be human is to question. We are born with an sense of awe and wonder about the world. Any good scientist and any deeply spiritual person can describe this feeling. We have a certain awe and wonder that come from discovering the answers we seek, only to lead us to more complex and probing questions. Any four year old can quickly ask enough why questions to completely exhaust a parent. This flame of curiosity is never extinguished in the most spiritual and scientific among us. Astronomers and physicists are full of people who get a complete thrill from the mysteries of the universe, and are forever seeking a grand unifying theory of everything. With each answer, new theories are born and the science springs in new, unthought of directions.
My personal experience in medicine and biology can absolutely be described this way. When I learn about the fundamental unit of life, the cell, it has breathtaking complexity. It is full of replicating and instructions in the nucleus. There is a complex set of machinery, or organelles to fuel the cell, break down waste, communicate with other cells. there is a chemical sea of proteins, ions, sugars running in a tireless factory the very processes of life. But this is only the beginning. Cells are communicating with eachother to unfold in the miraculous pattern of development into an individual organism. Cells communicate, differentiate, and cooperate as tissues, tissues join into functional organs, which are then tied into systems, which comprise an individual. It is truly astounding. This same complexity is found with the brain as neurons link to eachother in complex networks to direct our body’s function and somehow eventually build the internal world that is the mind. Standing on the shoulders of scientists who went before us, we have unlocked a staggering amount of information about how this all works and yet we are nowhere near understanding consciousness and the mind. Which leads to the next observation.
Both require an open mind and freedom of ideas to thrive
Science may be about skepticism and evidence but it is also about possibilities. To really discover, make breakthroughs something entirely new has to be envisioned. Then with evidence the prejudice of the status quo gradually melts away. There is a reason the US is a hub of scientific inquiry. We are not afraid to unlock mysteries or to discover and there is a free exchange and diversity of ideas. Religion and spirituality are at their best in this kind of environment as well. For both, dogmatism stifles all that is good and powerful about the two disciplines as a walk through history will show.
Both science and religion are replete with paradox.
Can we ever build an internal understanding in our mind that comprehends our very selves? Can we ever know our inborn and unconscious drives? If so, are they still inborn and unconscious? Can we ever truly know where the universe came from or how it came about? So much that we discover through science leads to answers that are downright counterintuitive and strange to the uninitiated. We end up with descriptions of particles at the subnuclear level where all of our physics falls apart. Some of modern science’s biggest breakthroughs, such as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle or quantum theory. fundamentally are about the limits of what we can know.
It is fascinating to me that, as we follow some theories to their extreme, they distort our concept of existence. Basic neuroscience taken in extreme would state the pattern of thoughts that is “us” is a complete illusion and delusion. If we fall too deeply into either the scientific or the religious world, we can lose connection with “reality,” at least as defined by society and our own experience. Both can become very esoteric and abstract. This was described wonderfully by Jonah Lehrer in his blog, the frontal cortex.
Religion is in large part the art of learning to live with mystery and paradox. In some sense this is what faith is all about. It is learning to trust something outside ourselves, God, the unknown and to find meaning therein. Some will argue that I am describing a God of the gaps, and perhaps I am, but the bottom line is there will never be a shortage of gaps. There will always be knowledge beyond our reach. This is where the God I know lives, until he reaches out and opens the eyes of our understanding through epiphany and revelation as we exercise faith and trust. I personally maintain faith that in the end, all truth collapses into one, and that God and science eventually meet, and all truth can be inscribed into one great whole.