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The never-ending battle between religion and science

By RosemaryJ36

Probably around 1956, my later-to-be-husband and I were on a boat at anchor in a creek off the River Thames, babysitting his sister’s two children while their parents enjoyed a well-earned drink in the onshore pub.

Diana, the older of the children, was perhaps 2 or 3 years old, and made a game of postponing bedtime by responding to every request or answer with one word.

‘Why?’

This is probably the most important word in the entire lexicon and it is what makes human beings pretty unique in the animal world.

We are seldom content with accepting everything around us. We want to know why it is there, what it is composed of, and how it works, if we are referring to material objects. If, however, we are referring to emotions or more ephemeral issues, we remain curious and seek explanations.

Which is why human beings invented gods, with their accompanying spiritual qualities.

There were so many answers people could not find, and the more cunning among them realised that they could become really powerful if they claimed the ability to interpret messages from the gods!

The Indians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Scandinavians, as well as the indigenous people of what is now the USA, along with most other nations around the world, each invented a pantheon of gods, usually including a supreme overlord. The Jews and the Islamists – whose religions share a great deal of history, are unique in being monotheistic.

All religions had their priests and their prophets. Islamists regard Jesus Christ as a prophet, though inferior to Muhammed, while the Jews reject his followers’ claim that he is the son of god.

For believers in those religions, the Shamans or priests were the repositories of knowledge (shades of Tony Abbott!) and they were the ones who determined what could or could not be accepted as truth.

In the western world, by the Middle Ages, the Roman Church – having jealously guarded the works we recognise as the Holy Bible as the sole source of true knowledge, excommunicated many whose scientific discoveries cast doubt on the veracity of the Bible.

To this day, there are many supposedly Christian sects who solemnly and sincerely believe in the Genesis version of the creation of the world. Because that is what the Bible says!

Science is slowly winning the battle of convincing more and more people that the Bible is not an accurate source of knowledge.

As with the Torah and the Qur’an, there is much in the Bible, most particularly in the New Testament’s record of Christ’s ministry, that is concerned with establishing rules for life. In many cases they are admirable, but they ignore the fact that, in an everchanging world, increasing knowledge demands that rules need to change to keep relevance.

If, two hundred years ago, people had been expected to accept our modern views on human rights, they would not have reacted well! Indeed, many in the twenty-first century still brush them aside – including the Australian government!

The underpinning pf science is asking – WHY? – closely followed by – HOW?

When I was about 8 or 9, I was given a Children’s Encyclopaedia, and the flyleaf carried this verse, which forms the first line of a poem by Rudyard Kipling:

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

No scientist could wish for better guidance!

But religion is, by definition, conservative. It looks to the past and resists change, just as the Holy See did in the seventeenth Century!

As an agnostic, I do not deny the possibility that a god exists but am increasingly convinced that she – or he – does not! I stand with you, Stephen Fry!

What I learned about the life of Christ from studying the Scriptures was that he believed in change, and demonstrated it in his treatment of the woman, about to be stoned for committing adultery, and cemented it in his modernising of the 10 Commandments, whittling them down to what were, for him as a believer, the two important parts. And any unbelievers would do well to seriously consider following the second one if they seek a harmonious existence!

But – the fight is continuing. Those who insist on living in the past are denying the rest of us a future!

Continuing to refuse to accept the science is dooming the world to even more unpleasant circumstances for our children than they will already experience because we have waited so long to take really effective action.

I truly believe the real adults need to take over the streets until the government gets stuck into the job which it is morally obliged to take on!

Ensuring that the world remains habitable for all living things!

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20 comments

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  1. Matters Not

    Generally agree. Enjoyable reading!

    Religion as a way of knowing promotes magical interpretations of the world and as Adams et al assert: as science advances – religion retreats.

    Gods will always be created (and recreated) because many people can’t live with doubt. Think it was Voltaire who argued:

    doubt is not a pleasant condition but certainty is absurd …

    I think he was on to something.

  2. Keitha Granville

    Morriscum is by definition not a Christian ie follower of Christ. As you so rightly point out JC summarised life into the 2 great commandments, love God and love your neighbour. Nothing about wealth, or power, all about caring. I think Morriscum has literally translated “suffer little children. . . ”

    I am a humanist I think, I can’t quite believe that any god would be allowing the destruction of his planet and the perpetration of suffering by so many people. If there is one, and he does, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be following him.

  3. Karen Kyle

    There is no never ending battle betwee religion and science. Main stream Christians these days are fully accepting of science. The Jesuits were set up by the Catholic Church to keep them abreast of new science. Jews have no trouble with science and either do many Muslims.

    You are talking and conflating the lunatic fringes when it comes to anti science thinking. And these are a minority. A minority of religious opinion and a minority of general opinion. Some perspective helps.

    As for the religious rght in the USA, they are staring down the barrell of oblivion. The new generation is not interested in their ideas. They are losing support and demographic change is also about to overwhelm them.

    The ME is more difficult. It is to be hoped that the intense and overwrought fanaticism will burn itself out. This happens with many Christian Fundamentalists who are unable to sustain the energy levels necessary to sustain the wild enthusiasim.

  4. Zathras

    When people find that their view of the world and reality is threatened, many tend to “double-down” and become totally resistant to change.
    Religion tends to be something imprinted on you at an early age and if you don’t rationalise your way into religion it can be hard to use logic to find your way back out.

    The other latecomers to irrational faith are usually those who have somehow been broken (such as addicts) and rebuilt their lives on another premise.

    The devout also tend to learn about their own religion as snippets or from Hollywood myths and few actually read Bibles or religious texts in their entirety and many who do tend to become atheists when they see the disparities it can reveal.

    In fact the group most knowledgeable about religion generally has been found to be Jewish people, followed by atheists with Christians coming a distant third.

    If it wasn’t for the learning opportunity wasted during the Dark Ages we would probably been travelling to the stars by now.

  5. Keith Davis

    “I truly believe the real adults need to take over the streets until the government gets stuck into the job which it is morally obliged to take on!”

    You’re on! I’ll be there!

  6. Kay Schieren

    Science is NOT a religion – yet science is now treated as one these days by many. There is no conflict between religion and science – only the limits of knowledge acquired via controlled experiments, it seems, are not accepted by people who are seeking a faith in science which is by it’s very nature limited to a certain level. Namely, what can be learned from observation in an experiment where variables are known within a controlled setting, and results from that are recorded, then the settings etc., are altered and the results recorded again. etc, etc. The nature of the experiment, the setting, the inputs only reflect a limited view of the universe – so the results reflect that. A religion, cosmology, belief system, is a reflection of original tribal culture driven by geography, environment, living standards, observation, etc. and in an experiential way, science and mythical values which are stories or metaphors made up from what we can’t explain YET.

    There is a level of “religion” which takes us beyond the limitations of a material existence ro place us in this very tiny mantle of physical existence as a temporary state. Which is how it actually is. We are part of finite cycles. It is in ourr nature to look past that because we are, as humans, capable of lookin for that, and even make choices in our lives to reflect what we see when we do. These are beliefs and faiths which are in some ways quite modern, because the are enhanced and ultimately reinforced by scientific observation. Christ said to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world”.

    Our daft and crooked little PM and his sponsors in the Churches do not acknowledge that. And they don’t act like any real Christian should – by giving witness of their faith in how they live, or moving on when they have no real audience for their inspired discourse. All else is just human vanity and corruption.

    Albert Einstein is acknowledged to have said – “the more I learn, the less I know”. The writer of this article seems to say the opposite in the unnecessary defense of real science or denigration of “religion” – and pretends that religion is as simplistic and inflexible as the articles of blind faith implied in her statements. Anyone who does real scientific work in theoretical or applied areas will not have many simplistic, glib views about science and religion. It’s all too much like hard work for that. Those science versus religion views are something acquired through ideological belief maybe called “religion”?

  7. Kaye Lee

    The great thing about science is that it does NOT require faith.

    Morality and ethics should not rely on fear of punishment, in this life or the supposed next. Nor should responsibility be absolved by some sort of chanting ritual.

  8. Tristan Ewins

    Much religion is not meant to be taken literally. Some religion comprises parables which – if interpreted correctly – would be upheld in science. There are also mysteries that perhaps science will never fully grasp. Such as the source and nature of free will and consciousness. We should respect peoples’ free choices when it comes to religion. So long as society is free and pluralist religion is a free choice which should be respected. For me, connection with God is important ; God being the source of the soul ; the source which nourishes the soul and holds a person’s inner self together. Kabbalah symbolises God’s plan for all that is ; and especially the soul of all that is. You can laugh if you like, but it is my faith ; and also borne out by experience. (which I will not explain) That said, a great many people have utterly literal interpretations of Scripture – and in the process kind of miss the point. Indeed, that literalism was long dominant in Christianity ; perhaps it still is. One important thing ; reading scripture God wishes us to fear Him even more than love Him. That’s pretty hard to deal with: the Severe side of God, and wondering when that severity relents and there is reconciliation. Many Jews do not believe in Grace ; but there are a good number who do. I have hope in the gracious side of God. God as I understand Him wants to keep control through fear ; but if it makes a difference that this is largely to protect us from ourselves. So I struggle with God ; but I have seen a great deal of evil in this world: Hatred, Spite, Malice, Cruelty, Malevolence – and in the face of that God is hope. Most people probably have a less jaded view of the world. That said you are all entitled to your world views. You don’t have to listen to anything I say. And I don’t want to force anyone to listen if they don’t want to.

  9. paul walter

    Re Tristan Ewens, occasionally you get more nuanced view on the subject. These issue deserve to be thought through with a little care, to be human.

  10. Joseph Carli

    Once, I was almost a Buddhist, but the expected demand to sit in a lotus state chanting “om..om..om” gave me the shits…Now..I am almost a Rosicrucian….at least THEY don’t ask you to do a thing!…now THAT is my kind of religion!

  11. Ross Barrell

    “I truly believe the real adults need to take over the streets until the government gets stuck into the job which it is morally obliged to take on!

    Ensuring that the world remains habitable for all living things!”

    Absolutely Rosemary. Got it in one.

  12. Zathras

    Science does not have a deity, an administrative hierarchy passing instructions down from a patriarch “on high”, a written unchallengeable text based on myths and stories, an empty promise of eternity or immortality not built on facts or a set of unshakeable traditions.

    Science is a religion in the same way that not collecting stamps is a hobby or that baldness is a hair colour.

    It’s a ridiculous argument dished out by the religious to give their own beliefs a sense of authenticity by association. They use the same hollow argument against such specific things as climate change.

  13. paul walter

    I dunno…as long as there is an Unknown, are not people going to speculate as to what is known as against, what matters or not? Religions, metaphysics and philosophies are theories largely unverifiable this side of the grave, but sure as heck you will not prevent a species and the individuals within it at this stage of its evolution from speculation.

    Did not science evolve out of religion before becoming a religion itself?

    You have to get hold of people like Skidelsky and Kuhn, let alone leftists, before you realise just how questionable the assumptions at the bottom of current economics are and that leaves natural sciences mathematically provable or disprovable in ways more less mechanistic stuff isn’t, in a world now exploring Quantum and Relativity.

    And why even do science if you lack self knowledge and know not what where you going or have a realistic hierarchy of wants (against?) needs? You do science, I suppose, to do find better ways of satisfying needs firstly then wants and you wont eliminate religion and philosophy while there is still a question hanging needs versus wants and from that within a known and unknown universe.

    I know what I think on some things, but proving what i think I know is a bit more difficult. What I know could be mere vanity, “all I know is that I know =nothing ” has been something to shame me on so many assumptions, out of the blue, I held to be inviolate over my life. In the end I am shamed just enough to get myself off myself for long enough to realise there are other lives and a massive universe – multiverse(s)) I actually now absolutely little or nothing about and probably can know little or nothing about given what i am, so for me religion and philosophy are inevitable side effects of the shock such an epiphany generates.

    But from this point i would finally have to learn that speculations are really just theorising and from that point understand that I have not the right to impose my beliefs on others, except through some form of non violent persuasion.

    People realise too late imposition on others is not good through cause and effect.

    Is it thought heuristics, theorretics and systems that are wrong or does it reside in human nature (defined in limit?) at a stage of evolutionary primitivity.

    There is little in the New Testament Gospels to suggest that Christ and the followers were advocating holy wars, persecution of minorities or intolerance torture and the like yet history is full of doctrinal wars involving Christianity and other religions where conclusions seem totally out of kilter with the likes Buddha, Christ, Socrates and the like.

    In the end, knowing no better, I go along with the thread is accepting that people with ideas different to mine do not have the right to impose their lifestyles on me. But I want to do that without falling into a binary thinking that has me reject the heritage of several thousand years across the planet.

    What do I do about the starving masses, you will then have to ask me. Is there no way we can break oligarchic, myopic control to give others what we value when it is theoretically possible under the right arrangements to do so for an ethical value?

    NOW I am stumped, because I can’t give an answer, only revue the thoughts of great thinkers. Do I accept that life is bad and hope there is some sort of evening up I don’t know about, just get on with things as best i can with humility and gratitude that I too am not worse off, or “take up arms against a sea of troubles”; do a Marx and seek to overthrow a bad system, risking the chance of something even worse?

    The very processes of life make things seem pretty problematic most of the time is about all i can say just at the mo, iness I get a bit more arrogant, then I am heading for a fall.

  14. Karen Kyle

    Tris……I agree with what you have to say re most people who take a literal view of the Bible are missing the point. None misses the point more than Carl Sagan in his Blue Dot story. It is not only the Biblical Literalist who misses the point. The New Athiest scientists are among the worst offenders.

    As for Sagan, his objection to a human centric world view is astounding. What else did he expect? We are human. Therefore we necessarily project ourselves onto the world and the Cosmos. We cut it down to human size in an effort to understand and cope. It was always known by the ancients that humans can’t cope with the divine. Faced with the ultimate reality we would be driven mad.

    Just as we can’t cope with the immensity, emptyness and hostile atmosphere of space. And maybe that is a sort of portrait of the divine. And maybe it isn’t. What do I know, except that space is friightening, and psycological problems among returning astronaughts is not uncommon.

    The way humans see the world is mirrored in the rest of the animal kingdom.. A dog will see his human family as part of his pack and behave accordingly. A woman owned a parrot with behavioural problems. She took it to an Animal expert who said the parrot was in love with her and coudn’t understand why she would not mate with him and lay eggs. And I am pretty sure hippos and other animals see the world only from their point of view. The difference between us and the rest of the herd is that we are aware and as far as we know they are not.

    Which brings us back to Genesis and the Fall. That is the story of how we became aware. How we grew up and moved from a “sweet unknowing” to a world of trouble and hardship. There is so much wisdom in these stories. We should never discard or beliittle them and we should jump on ignorant scientists when they display attitutes of contempt and dismissal.

  15. paul walter

    Karen Kyle, marvellous example of what you speak of re parrot, involving a film clip of a whale paying close attention to a female swimmer and the substantial reason why…Probably on utube, door knocks must leave.

    Re your post, somewhat useful, but think last sentence is wrong, it is the public that usually misses the point, scientists only present and it is to others to make what they will of enviro degradation etc
    . Greta Thunberg demonstrates how badly sections of the public fail due to their own humanity in the “human, too human sense.

  16. Karen Kyle

    Paul…. I wasn’t thinking of Greta Thunberg and Cimate Change. Most people with some notable exceptions will listen to scientists when they speak publicly about science. When they stray into other areas there are probems. They are not polymaths.

    As far as the public is concerned problems are caused by lack of religious knowledge and the heavy bias of what religious education there is. Religion is probably best taught in public schools, as opposed to religious schools by qualified teachers who are not pushing a religious agenda i.e. saving souls.

    The UK teaches Comparative Religion in schools in the hope of fostering increased understanding among the diverse religious groups now present in the UK. And it is increasingly recognised by governments that diplomats, business men, and even soldiers need similar training. This may have the effect of going some way to elimiinating the ignorance of scientists and the general public.

    I am not a supporter of Bibi the Israeli PM. But when he was in Australia he was asked the reaason for the survival and thriving of Jews under enormous pressure. He said that Jews have their roots planted firmly in the past which they celebrate every year and their heads streaking towards the sky and the future. They are strong and resilient, they value their own culture which is a source of strength. We should take a leaf out of their book.

  17. paul walter

    Pretty much no argument here for what you have said. Maybe we are not so far apart after all.

  18. paul walter

    Although, with “”the Jews” access to money and power counts perhaps. Maybe we should ask the Aborigines and the Palestinians about the immanent factors involved concerning self realisation.

  19. Karen Kyle

    The Jews didn’t have access to money and power during WW two The myth of Jewish money and power is largely just that. Conspiracy rubbish. And I wish someone knew how to assist tthe Aboriginal people and I wish an snswer could be found re Palestinain Arabs. So do the Jews…

  20. paul walter

    We were talking about the “reasons for the survival and thriving of Jews under enormous pressure”.

    I was answering that point.

    Not sure you are being careful enough to prevent a eugenics conclusion being drawn.

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