The Best of Science and Religion

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I find it disappointing that there are scientists who display contempt for, and sweeping dismissal of, religion in any shape or form, and that there are religious people who have an all too readily expressed antipathy towards, if not contempt for, science. 

It’s true, of course, that some criticism is merited. There are scientists who espouse ‘scientism‘ – the view that science is the only source of true knowledge, and the only explanation of the universe, and the entirety of human culture. Some tell us the “Theory of Everything” is just around the corner, but can’t explain the ‘dark’ matter and energy which make up 95% of the universe. Some ‘explain’ the origin of the universe in terms of the laws of quantum physics, but can’t explain the origin of these laws themselves. None can explain how conscious self-awareness can arise from a material brain. And although science has given us nuclear weapons, it can’t tell us how to stop them being the means of our self-destruction.

Then there are religious people who espouse ‘fundamentalism‘ – the view that God has revealed all we need to know about how to live our lives, and that this information is given to us in books that are infallible – that contain no errors, inconsistencies or contradictions of any kind, despite the fact that these are patently innumerable. Their minds are closed and, too often, their hearts as well. At their worst, they’re persuaded that their ‘god’ requires them to slaughter fellow human beings, and promises hedonistic, if not voluptuous, rewards in the hereafter. They turn their ‘sacred’ books into unchangeable millstones that retard the progress of a constantly changing world.

Let’s decide, however, to pass judgement of the basis of the best that science and religion have to offer, rather than the worst. Let’s open the dustbin lid and drop scientism and fundamentalism into it, and see what remains.

Science has ‘taken off’ exponentially since the 17th century. Modern medicine has raised global life expectancy from 30 to over 70 years, and increased our quality of life. It can rapidly produce vaccines against deadly viruses. It has given us the ‘labour saving’ devices that have ended centuries of thankless, daily grind and graft. It has given us the technology that has put the immeasurable resources of the world wide web into our pocket-sized smart phones. It has globalised a previously disconnected world, and has revealed to us the wonders of this vast universe in which we find ourselves. 

Religion has been with us from before history began. It’s been a source of fundamental moral and ethical values, such as the 10 commandments and the Golden Rule, which underwrite the quality and worth of life. It has encouraged constructive qualities such as compassion, forgiveness, and care for others. It has motivated and enriched sociability and belonging, and has been a source of courage and inner strength for countless people. It has generated much of the world’s greatest, and most inspiring literature, painting, sculpture and music.

So whether or not we ourselves are scientifically or religiously inclined, let’s by all means criticise overweening, counter-productive or dangerous beliefs, attitudes and actions, but let’s equally celebrate every positive, hopeful and life-enhancing contribution made, by both science and religion, to our fragile human existence in a universe both beneficent and hostile.

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